US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, 23 June, announced a ban on the issuance of all H-1B visas, among other type of work visas till the end of the year.
As per a proclamation signed by Trump, the ban comes into effect starting 24 June and applies to a number of work visas. Since April, when Trump abruptly announced wanting to “temporarily suspend immigration into the country”, the administration has reportedly been mulling a temporary ban on work-based visas like the H-1B, amid a growing unemployment crisis in the country due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Trump said the step was essential to help millions of Americans who have lost their jobs. His proclamation also extends his previous executive order that had banned issuance of new green cards of lawful permanent residency till the end of the year.
“The entry of additional workers through the H-1B, H-2B, J, and L non-immigrant visa programs, therefore, presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans,” he said.
An estimated 85,000 H1-B visas are issued each year.
Which categories of work visas does the year-end ban apply to?
Since Trump’s proclamation extends his previous executive order that had banned new green cards of lawful permanent residency, the new visas also banned effective 24 June onwards are are L-1 visas for intracompany transfers, H-1Bs for workers in specialty occupations as well as the H-4 visa for spouses, H-2Bs for temporary non-agricultural workers and most J-1 visas for exchange visitors on a short term basis like interns, trainees or those in summer work travel programmes.
L-1 visas allow the companies to transfer highly skilled workers to US for up to seven years.
Which types of immigrants and potential immigrants will be affected by the ban till 31 December?
The decision will impact a large number of Indian IT professionals and several American and Indian companies who were issued H-1B visas by the US government for the fiscal year 2021 beginning 1 October, PTI reported.
The new proclamation applies to those who are presently outside the US, do not have a valid non-immigrant visa and an official travel document other than a visa to enter the country.
The processing of all fresh H-1B, H-2B, J, and L non-immigrant visas will be halted.
Foreign nationals seeking to enter the US to provide temporary labour or services essential to the food supply chain are reportedly exempted from the latest proclamation. According to Trump, it will have no impact on lawful permanent residents of the United States and foreign nationals who are spouses or children of an American citizen.
Foreign technology professionals on H-1B visas have reportedly been demanding the Trump administration extend their permissible post-job loss limit to stay in the US from the existing 60 to 180 days.
How will it affect Indian companies?
Indian IT companies are reportedly amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the US H-1B visa regime.
Almost two-third of the H-1B applications for 2020-2021 are from India, a total of 184,000 applications from the country. According to reports, this could have a huge impact on the cost-cutting measures employed by Indian firms who send their employees to work abroad.
According to a report in The Indian Express, Indian IT companies that offer subcontracts to Indian nationals already present in the US with valid H-1B visas will also be hit.
What is a merit-based visa system and how will it be better?
In a supposed reform of the H-1B visa system, Trump’s administration is moving towards a “merit-based immigration system” to “prioritise the highest-skilled workers and protect American jobs”, PTI reported.
The H-1B programme will be reformed to get the “best and the brightest” and prioritise those workers earning the highest salaries, White House officials have reportedly said.
Why has the US been restricting intake of foreign workers lately?
The US has been battling an unemployment crisis along with the pandemic this year, with the “overall unemployment quadrupling from February-May 2020”.
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work. Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers,” Trump reportedly said.
As of the first week of May, 1 in 5 American workers had filed for first-time unemployment benefits since mid-March, when the lockdown measures hit businesses across the country.
(With inputs from PTI and The Indian Express)