Trump extends freeze on H-1B, other work visas until March 31

The wait for Indian techies eyeing jobs in the US has got longer with US President Donald Trump extending the ban on new H-1B visas until March 31. The freeze was set to expire on December 31, but Trump issued another proclamation to extend it for another three months.

While the current US administration under Trump believes that such a move was essential to help millions of Americans who have lost their jobs due to the current economic crisis, industry experts say that the ban could be shortlived with President-Elect Joe Biden expected to review it shortly after taking office.

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“Prior to the US elections and during the campaign, Biden had released documents indicating plans to increase the number of high-skilled visas, including the H-1B, and eliminate the limit on employment-based visas by country. The Democrats have generally been more open about allowing high skilled talent from other countries,” said a senior executive at an Indian IT services company.

Lack of local talent

According to industry experts, the decision to ban H-1B is from a misplaced belief that it will keep out Indians and Chinese from taking American jobs, when in reality there are high skilled tech jobs lying vacant in the US due to lack of local talent.

While there is no denying that Indian IT services companies and engineering graduates have been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme over the last two decades, the fact of the matter is that there are not enough US citizens with the required STEM skills for the available jobs.

A recent study by a think-tank founded by former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry M Paulson revealed that only 20 per cent of the world’s top artificial intelligence researchers come from the US. An analysis of Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Current Population Survey by the National Foundation for American Policy states that in the 30-day period ending May 13, 2020, there were over 6,25,000 active job vacancies advertised online for jobs in common computer occupations, including those most common to H-1B visa-holders. At the same time, unemployment rate for computer occupations declined from 3 per cent in Jan-2020 to 2.5 per cent in May-2020.

Trump’s decision to extend the ban would create short-term uncertainty for Indian techies and American companies which bet on global talent. There is no major impact on Indian IT service companies as they are hiring more Americans and enabling US graduates to reskill with required qualifications for IT outsourcing jobs.

The ban will affect people who have approved H-1B petitions and could have been issued H-1B visas from October 2020 onwards, said Poorvi Chothani, founder and managing partner, LawQuest, an immigration law firm.

Also, the skeletal staff at American consulates across India is delaying visa renewals, even for those who qualify for Dropbox applications and interview waivers. This is adding to the problem, added Chothani.