Future tense! Indian techies, students in US could face tough times
NEW DELHI | BENGALURU: The Trump administration could make life more difficult for legal immigrants to the US who are on H-1B visas, a large chunk of which is used by the Indian information technology industry.
According to leaked drafts of four executive orders said to be under consideration by the White House, one deals with “Limiting legal immigration: Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs”, reported vox.com. The draft seeks “improved monitoring of foreign students” and allows for “site visits” of workplaces that employ L1 visa holders by US Department of Homeland Security officials.
It also seeks to reverse the Obama administration’s decision to allow spouses of H1B Visa holders to work in that country. 90% of Indian technology workers use H1B visas.
L1 visas are for shorter periods and are often used by top management. The order, if signed into law, will also reverse the Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students that the earlier administration had mooted in late 2015.
OPT extensions allowed graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the US for as much as three years after graduating from college. The new order will curtail that period, hurting the future plans of 165,918 Indian students in the US. Indians comprise the second largest ethnic group after the Chinese when it comes to international student enrolment in the US, according to the Institute of International Education.
If implemented, the executive order could seriously hit the movement of students and skilled employees from India to the US.
R Chandrashekhar, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, said the industry does not react to drafts. “We continue to hold that skilled immigration is what benefits the global economy, and diversity and inclusion have actually made Silicon Valley the magnet for global talent,” he told ET, adding that the industry is in a “wait-and-watch” mode with regard to the rising protectionist sentiment in its largest market— the United States.
“This president is proving to be very determined to close off the US from foreign labour. He means what he says and believes in what he is doing,” said Phil Fersht, CEO, HfS Research. “The days of free movement of talent and labour with the US are going to be very challenged while this man is in power,” added Fersht.
EYES ON VISA
The H-1B visa programme, which allows highly skilled workers to travel to the US, has been a cornerstone of Indian IT’s success for almost two decades now. As the future of the visa programme hangs in the balance, a person aware of the thinking of the Indian technology services companies said that they would want to get their hands on as many visas as possible before any long-term prohibitions set in.
“Assuming no executive orders are passed regarding the H-1B visas by April 1, when the visa lottery opens, everybody would latch on to what is currently available. Next year, you don’t know whether you will get a visa or not,” said this person.
On Friday, Trump issued an executive order barring the entry of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries into the US, causing chaos at airports across the US. A New York federal judge issued an emergency stay on the order late Saturday US time.
Friday’s order applied to legal immigrants and visa holders from seven countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya. The heads of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Uber and several others condemned the order.
Indian IT companies say that they are tracking the events in the US carefully and will craft a response in the coming week.
“This was a nasty weekend surprise for all us… We will have to get used to this during Trump’s term, I guess,” said a senior executive at one of India’s largest IT services firms, who did not wish to be identified. He added that over the next couple of days, senior executives of the firm in the US will figure out a future strategy. Another IT services major said it wasn’t particularly worried about Friday’s executive order, but would take “appropriate measures” if a decision impacting the Indian IT industry is taken.
Sudin Apte, CEO of Offshore Insights, said that even though Friday’s executive order may not have an immediate, direct impact on Indian IT industry, many Indian tech firms have sizeable numbers of employees on their rolls who are Muslims. Some of these employees may feel challenged going for onshore assignments to the US. Apte added that Indian IT companies should be prepared for a phase of uncertainty for the next 3-6 months.
Some experts believe that Friday’s order may not affect Indian IT companies, as they have “elaborate pre-hiring process to verify their employees.”
“The new policy to ban trouble makers, specifically from seven countries is because they have historically been a cause for turbulence in the Americas. India, on the contrary, has been resilient and has time and again proved to be America’s long standing friend,” said Rajiv Dabhadkar, founder of the National Organisation for Software and Technology Professionals, which works for Indian workers overseas.