Wednesday 21 October 2020

Trump turns more ‘swadeshi’ in poll season, hitting desi techies

The Donald Trump administration has unveiled a tightening of rules for immigration visas used widely by technology firms, claiming the new system would be better for American workers

The United States government of President Donald Trump today announced it was tightening the rules of immigration visas. Technology firms in India and the United States too — as much as those in China and Europe — used the older rules extensively to bring talents software and engineering to America from all over the world. The US administration claims the ”new system would be better for American workers”.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on 6 October the new regulations for H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, which allow up to 85,000 immigrants annually.

The move to curtail H-1B visas for foreign skilled workers and raise wage-based entry barriers is expected to affect the Indian techies the most. The US authority has cited “data” that more than 5 lakh Americans have lost their jobs because of “H1B non-immigrants” to amend the rules.

India and China account for the lion’s share of H-1B visas. As per US government data, India accounts for upwards of 70% of its overall immigrants. Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said about one-third of the people who had applied for H-1B visas would be denied under the new rules.

With Trump being treated for COVID-19, the approval poll ratings plummeting and less than 30 days to go before the US election, the timing of the H1B visa hammering reminds one of similar moves by state governments of India that call for local reservations in every poll season.

“It would have been a surprise if this hadn`t happened,” an H1B worker on-site at JP Morgan in New York City said under the condition of anonymity. The salary requirement will be a “game-changer” in favour of the Trump administration, he said, although statistics show no correlation between a ‘swadeshi’ policy and better electoral returns.

Many workers on H1B visa expressed similar sentiments. It is not unusual, coming from the executive head of the US whose economics has been locally centred throughout his tenure.

Multiple departments that coordinate and monitor the crisscrossing elements of foreign worker visas — US Department of Labor (DoL), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — are likely to see hectic activities as a result of the tweaked rules.

The Department of Labor’s revisions in the minimum salary requirements come into force with effect from tomorrow. DHS’s H1B revisions will be effective in 60 days.

“When seeking to employ an H-1B, H-1B1, or E-3 visa, US employers must attest that they will pay non-immigrant workers, during the period of authorized employment, the higher of the prevailing wage or the actual wage paid to other employees with similar experience and qualifications,” US Department of Labor announced.

The manipulation of the low-cost H1B paycheque is a political game that Trump has forever played. The co-ordinated press-releases and telephonic briefings across DoL and DHS sang the same anthem.

The DoL rule will raise the four salary tiers for employees on H1Bs and other professional visas, which currently begin at the 17th percentile for each industry, to the 45th percentile.

“Under the existing wage levels, artificially low prevailing wages provide an opportunity for employers to hire and retain foreign workers at wages well below what their US counterparts — meaning US workers in the same labor market, performing similar jobs, and possessing similar levels of education, experience, and responsibility — make, creating an incentive — entirely at odds with the statutory scheme – to prefer foreign workers to US workers and causing downward pressure on the wages of the domestic workforce,” an excerpt from the DoL interim final rule reads.

The department is tightening the screws also on the definition of “specialty occupation” to make it align with what it calls the “verbatim” description.

On a parallel track, the DHS will narrow the definition of “specialty occupation”, making companies need to make “real” offers to “real employees,” and turbocharge its own ability to ensure compliance “before, during, and after an H1-B petition is approved”.

“Data shows that the more than a half-million H-1B non-immigrants in the United States have been used to displace US workers,” reads a statement from the DHS.

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