Inside the fuss over H-1B visas

Inside the fuss over H-1B visas

By Luke Vargas   
Courtesy: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Courtesy: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The US is threatening a dramatic cut in the number of skilled Indian workers granted U.S. work visas unless India drops a new data localization law.

UNITED NATIONS – The U.S. threatened this week to cap the number of skilled Indian workers granted special H-1B visas, opening a new front in the Trump administration’s effort to overhaul immigration policy.

The H-1B program lets American firms temporarily hire foreign workers for skilled jobs in science and technology. While it’s capped at 85,000 new visas per year, the program is so popular it often swells to encompass more than 400,000 guest workers.

Nigel Cory is the associate director for trade policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“The data has shown that they aren’t taking other jobs or undercutting U.S. salaries or anything like that.”

So why disrupt such a popular program? The U.S. is angry with India’s recent embrace of “data localization” policies, which force American companies to build data centers in the countries where their users are based.

Champions of the policy says it spreads the wealth of the digital economy, but tech firms balk at having to set up new data centers around the world.

To punish India for localizing its data, the U.S. is threatening to allot no more than 15 percent of H-1B visas to Indians – a big drop from the present 70%.

“Anything that makes the U.S. [a] harder, more expensive place to work for skilled foreign professionals obviously puts it at a disadvantage to others who are keenly watching to see how they could possibly capitalize on changes in the U.S. system.”

The U.S. hopes its visa threat persuades India to scrap data localization. Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, thinks reforming the H-1B program is a better idea.

“Other countries have seen how outdated our program is and have kind of taken advantage of that. For example, Canada recently opened up a program where you can bring in a skilled worker as fast as two weeks – light years faster than you can bring in a worker on the H-1B program.”

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