Monday, 09 July 2018 11:16

US again delays decision on spouses of H-1B visa holders

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A decision on the right of spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the US has been deferred yet again by the US Government, leaving tens of thousands of people uncertain of their future.

In March, the Trump administration had said that a move to deny spouses of H-1B visa holders the right to work, a privilege granted by the Obama administration, would go ahead.

The only obstacle in the way was a case filed by an advocacy group, Save Jobs USA, which claimed that the Department of Homeland Security does not have the right to grant work permits without approval from Congress.

That case is still ongoing but is not an impediment to a decision to cancel the H-4 visas granted by the Obama administration.

Plans had been made to get rid of the Obama era rule in February. The technology industry has lobbied against dropping the rule, claiming that it would undercut their ability to hire foreign workers. The wives of H-1B holders have been given H-4 visas since they were allowed to be employed.

Since the rule came in, a total of 41,526 people have been given work permits.

A research paper by two scholars said the unpredictability of these impending changes would cause financial strain and a psychological burden on families.

The authors of the paper, Pooja Vijayakumar, a doctoral student at the Kemmy Business School in Limerick, Ireland, and Dr Christopher Cunningham from the University of Tennessee, at Chattanooga, told the MSN website: "Cancelling work permits of spouses could negatively affect business operations for major IT companies.”

The paper further said: “If the current American presidential administration goes ahead with the plan to cancel work permits for spouses of expatriates, IT organisations and businesses will have to come up with an action plan to support spouses to prevent or at least minimise turnover of critical members of their highly talented IT workforces."

Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the US has been clamping down on H-1B visas which are used to bring in about 85,000 people a year to work in the country. Many of them are Indians who work in the technology industry.

In October 2017, the government issued new guidelines making it tougher for existing H-1B holders to renew their visas, specifying that they would have to go through the same process for renewal as they did to first obtain the visa.

The number of applicants for H-1B visas fell last year for the first time in four years. In April 2017, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services received 199,000 applications, compared to 236,000 received in 2016.

Another new stricture on H-1B visas, is that computer programmers would not be presumed to be eligible for an H-1B visa. Rather, details of qualifications need to be supplied so that it could be determined whether the individual is fit to do the specialised task for which the visa is sought.

This guidance means that H-1B visas will go to very high-skilled and higher-paid professionals, with low- and mid-level jobs presumably to go to American workers instead.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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