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Trump amends H1B rules, entry level techies to be hit hardest

The Trump administration has quietly reworked its H-1B guidelines and this could impact entry-level programmers on work visas.

April 04, 2017 / 04:42 PM IST
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The Trump administration quietly reworked its H-1B visa policy over the weekend, and this is likely to impact entry-level IT workers the hardest. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service has released a revised set of H-1B guidelines dated March 31, 2017, which will hit entry-level 'software programmers' and IT companies applying for work visas this H-1B season, which opened Monday.

Currently, there are about 120,000 H-1B holders in the US. Many of them are shipped from countries such as India to work on projects for US companies which look to replace expensive local labor with cheap foreign labour under the guise of ‘knowledge transfer’.

About 40 percent of the IT workers who apply for tech jobs fall under the entry level category.

The new guidelines imply that programmers with an associate master's in computer sciences or less than a bachelor's degree could no longer be eligible for an H-1B. People with diploma-level IT skills applying for an H-1B visa could be hit hardest. Those workers not educated in the US on such degrees could also be hit.

As per the guidelines, an entry level programmer could no longer be considered as 'a specialty occupation’ which was the case earlier.


This is likely to impact all entry level H-1B holders working with IT companies such as Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, TCS, MindTree etc. This would also impact prospects of entry level programmers who were looking to be hired by tech startups in the US.

A spokesperson for USCIS has confirmed that the administration has rescinded the ‘17-year old guidelines’ which were not relevant.

Shares of tech majors listed on Nasdaq and NYSE such as Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant were seen in the red on last close. Listed companies such as Genpact and WNS Solutions are also likely to be impacted due to less offshoring by US corporations.

The recent cap of 65,000 visas was opened this week on Monday and is likely to be filled to the brim.

The guidelines refer and rescinds a memorandum issued on December 22, 2000 titled  “Guidance memo on H-1B computer related positions”.

“While the 2000 memorandum stated that most programmers had a bachelor’s degree or higher, that information is not particularly relevant to a specialty occupation adjudication if it does not also provide the specific specialties the degrees were in and/or what, if any, relevance those degrees had to the computer programmer occupation,” the new guideline stated.

“It is improper to conclude based on this information that USCIS would generally consider the position of programmer to qualify as a specialty occupation,” the March 31, 2017 guideline to employers and visa officers stated.

“An entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation because the plain language of the statutory and regulatory definition of “specialty occupation” requires in part that the proffered position have a minimum entry requirement of a US bachelor’s or higher degree,” the statement further added.

Pichai and Nadella studied in India

It is imperative to note that top Indian tech CEOs in the US - Sundar Pichai and  Satya Nadella completed their bachelor’s degrees from Indian colleges such as the IIT Chennai and Manipal Institute of Technology, respectively. However the newer entrants who have studied in Indian colleges stand less chance of getting an H-1B visa, under the new guidelines.

The USCIS has further advised tech companies applying for H-1B visas for their prospective employees to not rely solely on the Handbook to meet its burden when seeking to sponsor a beneficiary for a computer programmer position.

“Instead, a petitioner must provide other evidence to establish that the particular position is one in a specialty occupation,” it advised.

The US courts and the USCIS agency consistently have stated that, although a general-purpose bachelor’s degree, such as a business administration degree, may be a legitimate prerequisite for a particular position, requiring such a degree, without more, will not justify the granting of a petition for an H- 1B specialty occupation visa.

The Trump administration also released an anonymous email id to report H-1B abuse and any instance of low wages being paid for a position by an employer.

Entertainment war over H-1B visas

The Trump administration has also cited a form titled WH-4 to report any wage violations being committed by H1 employers. In the year 2015, out of eight biggest H-1B employers all were Indian firms that include Cognizant, Infosys, TCS, Accenture. HCL, MindTree and Wipro.

Indian IT companies with roots in India took about 21,750 visas of the total 65,000 cap in 2014.

Big US employers of H-1B include Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, Accenture, Syntel, Apple etc.

This new guideline comes even as a Democrat Senator Zoe Lofgren has tabled a bill - called The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017 which will raise minimum the salary of an H-1B worker to USD 130,000 from the USD 60,000 prescribed earlier.

The new guidelines come even as there an entertainment war being fought with release of a new film which focuses on the dilemmas of an H-1B holder - which is to struggle to stay in the US or find opportunities back  at home.

Earlier last month, a CBS documentary focused on Americans whose jobs were taken away by the same people who got trained under them in the guise of knowledge transfer.

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Harsimran Julka
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