H-1B visa hopefuls dial immigration lawyers as Trump’s policies spark anxieties

They are nervous about US President Donald Trump’s plans to overhaul America’s employment-based immigration system, as previewed in a leaked draft of an executive order he may sign soon.

world Updated: Feb 05, 2017 12:17 IST
Donald Trump,H-1B visas,Immigration policy
In this photograph taken on February 3, a prototype figurine replica of US President Donald Trump, made by toymaker Dragon in Dream (DiD), is displayed in Hong Kong toy shop Seven. A Hong Kong doll maker with a history of creating figurines of controversial world leaders has launched a replica of US President Donald Trump complete with replaceable heads and hands.(AFP)

Dimo Michailov, a DC immigration lawyer, likes to keep his clients abreast of the latest developments through chat sessions, newsletters, social media posts and personal outreach. He is an engager. But lately, he has had to do more of that than ever before.

“We are getting calls and questions from a lot of our worried clients, both employers and employees,” Michailov said, adding, “Companies that employ foreigners on H-1B visas are so worried that they are planning to scale down their intake.”

His clients are nervous about President Donald Trump’s plans to overhaul America’s employment-based immigration system, as previewed in a leaked draft of an executive order he may sign in the present form or a version of it.

The draft refers to a melange of alphabetical letters used for visa programmes. The most important ones for Indian companies and Indians seeking to work in the US are the H-1B, a temporary visa for high-skilled foreign workers, and L-type visas for intra-company transfers.

The leaked draft proposes no specific changes to existing rules and regulations, but instructs government departments dealing with these work visas to review the programmes and recommend changes within specified time periods.

It does, however, lay down the basic principle: “Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the US national interest. In particular, visa programs for foreign workers… should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers – our forgotten working people – and the jobs they hold.”

That is in line with what Trump has himself said. However, in the absence of specifics, there are concerns about what to expect, how much will change, and how soon, considering that the US Citizenship and Immigrations Service (USCIS) is expected to start inviting petitions for H-1B visas for 2018 in a few weeks’ time.

Indian IT companies with US operations — the biggest include Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Mahindra Satyam — are among the largest recipients of the 85,000 H-1B visas granted every year. This has brought them under unrelenting scrutiny, coupled with accusations of taking away American jobs.

“Things should be fine this year as there is not enough time for them to carry out whatever changes they plan to,” said Chirag Patel, an immigration lawyer in Maryland. “But, going into the next fiscal year, there may be new rules and guidelines.”

Reports say Trump and his aides have actively considered two changes in the H-1B visa programme, a matter that came up at his meeting with Silicon Valley leaders – dubbed as the Tech Summit – in January. The first one deals with scrapping the lottery system for approving H-1B petitions, which has been used by the USCIS to deal with the ballooning demand that far outstrips the number of visas available. This would be replaced with a system that gives preference to employers hiring for the highest-paying jobs.

The second change concerns removal of the Masters waiver to make sure foreigners being hired under the programme are indeed high-skilled, and not low-level IT hands being brought into the country to replace Americans who cost more to the employer.

First Published: Feb 04, 2017 10:55 IST