Sifting through the media articles to find genuine information on H1B and its repercussions, has turned out more cumbersome than guiding someone on how to get into Harvard.
Indians’ American Dream Crushed?
Ever since Trump was elected, there have been articles that blamed his policies for Indians being forced to exit US. Without citing any legitimate data source, such articles keep propagating half-baked information based on anecdotal evidence, combined with loosely derived insights on a topic that concerns a vast majority of Indian professionals. Mix Trump, H1B and a ‘fear-inducing’ word in your headline, and you have a viral article.
That does not mean that Trump has not harmed the American dream for Indians.
But the reasons are not what we normally think and we need to view the issue with a balanced perspective.
The damage that is done to the American dream or people flocking to the US in large numbers for higher studies, came more from the uncertainty around how Trump would execute on his promise to win jobs back for the Americans. Employers were not sure of what kind of laws may be passed, and they became more reluctant to hire internationals requiring H1B work visa sponsorships. The wait and watch began in 2017, and the National Science Board reported a decline of 6 percent in the enrollment of graduate students in science and engineering.
Developments in H1B Programme
On close scrutiny, however, no major changes have been made in the H1B programme itself. Here are few of the concrete developments:
- Increase in minimum wage requirement to qualify for H1B: A bill called Protect and Grow American Jobs Act was introduced to amend the original Act that created the H1B programme. It asked to raise the minimum salary requirement for H1B workers to USD 100,000 a year, up from USD 60,000, and remove the Master’s degree exemption that allowed the replacement of American workers with foreign workers with Master's degrees. The House Judiciary Committee approved it in November 2017, but it is far from becoming a law at this point. This bill directly impacts the jobs that Master’s students could get for a salary lower than USD 100,000. Any job that paid over USD 100,000 (including most of the tech companies and Wall Street) remain unaffected. But given that most of the STEM jobs in California and New York average over USD 100,000 anyway, this will negatively affect outsourcing firms more than the graduate students.
- Revoking work permits of H1B spouses: Not approved yet, but a rule has been proposed to revoke work permits of H1B spouses, popularly called ‘H4 EAD’. It is currently in the “final clearance and review” process. If it passes, it will be a blow to anyone on H1B, and affects Master’s students as well as workers from IT outsourcing firms alike. Of course, the spouses who are qualified, can apply for their own H1B.
- Tighter scrutiny of H1B extensions: In October 2017, the USCIS made it so that H1B extension applications are subjected to the same level of scrutiny as on fresh visa applications. Earlier, if anyone made a mistake in the application, they could get an RFE (request for evidence). However, now USCIS can outright right reject with no obligation to send RFE. A person requesting to stay anonymous told this reporter, “A friend of mine was asked to prove if the job duties he declared matches with those in his job description. A professor/expert had to evaluate and give him a letter. It caused a delay of 2-3 months in his H1B renewal.”
Anxiety Among Students Applying to US & Europe
What has happened is an increase in the number of cases where a worker is stranded in his home country, when going for H1B visa extensions. What used to be a formality earlier has become a complex step in the process.
This was also reflected in the fact that the number of approved H1B petitions filed by Indian IT firms (Cognizant, Infosys) declined in 2017 whereas those by leading tech companies such as Apple, Amazon increased (as reported by NFAP). It indicates a shift in preferring to grant H1Bs to direct employers rather than outsourcing IT firms.
Since these tech jobs from US employers are more likely to go to the Master’s students than the employees of an outsourcing firms, this change casts a bigger gloom on the outsourced IT workers rather than the students graduating from reputed schools in the US. In my venture Scholar Strategy, I have been working with young Asian students and professionals who go to the US and other countries for higher studies since the past five years. I did notice a heightened sense of anxiety about US and European schools, and a preference toward Canada instead. At the same time, those who are highly-skilled continue to flourish in the US.
Skilled Students Continue to Flourish in US
We have heard of internships and job offers from Tesla, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and every leading tech company. Hemant Pandey (working at Tesla) adds, “My H1B is approved. I was lucky enough to get it in the first attempt. I know people working at Google who are still waiting after 2 years.
With the large companies, which have offices around the world, even if your H1B is not picked, they will transfer you to Vancouver or the Europe office and then file H1B again. I am yet to hear of anybody among my friends and seniors who has to leave the country because of the visa issues. Getting a green card is the real pain.”
The crux is that the graduates from reputed schools and those who are ‘skilled enough’, continue to get the dream opportunities that had lured them to the US in the first place.
Having said that, there always have been, and will be people going through questionable consultants and body shops, and ‘low-ranked universities’ who struggle to get jobs. But isn’t that the case in India too and pretty much everywhere else?
(Nistha Tripathi is a Wall Street techie-turned author, and her third book, ‘No Shortcuts’, featuring the interviews of the 15 most successful Indian entrepreneurs, is releasing this year. She runs ‘Scholar Strategy’, an education and career-counseling firm. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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