By Prarthana Mitra
The American Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a proposal so that the highest paid and most skilled/educated foreign wokers get precedence in the H-1B visa intake process. These new amendments to the H-1B application were proposed by the Trump administration on Friday.
The existing rule
The H-1B work visa is valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. The applications are accepted via a lottery system, with an annual limit of 65,000 visas each fiscal year, as mandated by the Congress. Another 20,000 visas are exempt for the cap and reserved just for foreign students who hold advanced (master’s or above) degrees from American higher education institutions.
According to the DHS proposal, all applicants including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption will now be subject to the regular cap of 65,000 first. After that, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would select from the remaining applicants to fill the degree cap. This means that the lottery phase will go ahead without a full petition; submission of supporting documents will come after the random selections are completed.
This is believed to increase the number of H-1B holders who have advanced degrees by 16%, ensuring “more of the best and brightest workers from around the world come to America”.
Companies employing H-1B workers will have to pre-register with USCIS during a designated registration period.
“The proposed rule would reverse the selection order and count all registrations or petitions towards the number projected as needed to reach the H-1B cap first,” the DHS said, in an alleged attempt to curb the annual overload USCIS faces.
The registration process will also be made online for modernisation.
According to immigration activists and lawyers, however, this only serves to tighten the entry criteria, sets a higher bar for visa extensions, and threatens foreign workers who demand equal pay despite the booming economy. Cracking down on the popular visa programme to implement US president Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” strategy will take a toll on Indian workers as much as it would on the American tech sector.
It will also filter out more bachelor’s degree holders from the programme, while raising the probability of more US master’s degree holders occupying most of the total available slots in the first wave. According to official data, the number of new international students enrolling at American universities and colleges went down by almost 7% last year, owing to stringent student visa applications compounded by anti-immigrant messages.
By increasing the chances of H-1B visas for people with advanced degrees from US institutions, the proposed H-1B pre-registration rule will shut out Indian H-1B holders with good bachelor’s degrees from Indian universities who could potentially contribute to the US, tweeted US Immigration Attorney Cyrus Mehta.
Many US-based business enterprises have been experiencing staffing issues since the GOP began to tamper with the H-1B visa programme. They have been gradually shifting base to other countries, like Canada and Budapest, where workers have the hard skills they require, and immigration policies are much more relaxed.
The 2019 visa season will look very different if these changes are implemented by then. For now, public comments on the proposal are welcome from December 3, 2018 to January 2, 2019.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.