New Immigration Rules Make H-1B Friendlier (Till Trump Comes In)

Terminated H-1B visa holders will now get a grace period of 60 days to leave or sort out paperwork for new jobs.

3 min read
Though the relaxation of visa rules comes as boost for immigrants, uncertainty looms over the fate of the H-1B and other visas under the Trump administration. (Photo: AP)

Even as broader uncertainty looms over the fate of the H-1B visas under the incoming Donald Trump administration, some recent changes by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) make them friendlier to those already on them.

The USCIS will now allow terminated H-1B visa holders a grace period of 60 days to either leave or sort out their paperwork for new jobs.


How Will It Help?

Although the existing rules did not explicitly state that the terminated H-1B worker had to leave immediately, there have been cases where such workers had to find a way to leave the country immediately.

Decision-making in such cases came down to the individual discretion of the immigration officer.

The immigration authorities have now clarified that that is not the case, ending what many thought was an inhuman provision.
Neeraj Bhatia, Immigration Issues Expert

Under its ‘Final Rule’ published on 18 November, which will be effective from 17 January 2017, the USCIS will now allow terminated H-1B workers a grace period of 60 days to either leave or sort out their paperwork for new jobs.

Another change will also prevent the revocation of I-140 by employers for those employees who have held it for more 180 days but whose services were terminated. 

What this does is help such employees not lose their turn in the protracted green card process once they change over to new jobs.

One more significant change that the USCIS has announced relates to employment authorisation for H4 visa holders who come as spouses of H-1B visa holders. Under this change, those H4 workers will not have to wait for the approval of their extension for them to continue working.

Will Trump Change Relaxed Visa Rules?

Coming as it does just before President-elect Donald Trump, who is known to be averse to work visas, is set to take over on 20 January 2017, this is a remarkable change.

Of course, the visas’ long-term viability could come under serious strain if Trump carries out what he has promised during his rather abrasive presidential campaign.

Trump’s campaign promise of tightening rules for H-1B and other visas will hit Indians hard. (Photo: AP)
Trump’s campaign promise of tightening rules for H-1B and other visas will hit Indians hard. (Photo: AP)

“We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B programme,” the Trump campaign’s pre-election position paper said.

“More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the programme’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two,” it stated.

Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the US, instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. 
Trump Campaign’s Pre-Election Position Paper

“This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B programme,” the paper added.

It is ironic that the position paper did not realize that a majority of STEM students consists of foreign students from India and elsewhere who eventually get jobs via the H-1B visas. It is well-known that not a lot of American students go for STEM programmes.
Neeraj Bhatia

The Trump campaign’s position paper had also called for requirement to hire American workers first, adding: “Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need companies to hire from the domestic pool of the unemployed.”

On the question of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), Bhatia said: “The rule automatically extends the employment authorisation and validity of existing EADs issued to certain employment-eligible individuals for up to 180 days from the date of expiry.”

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