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US visa ban relaxation: Who will benefit and who won't?

The visa ban has not come as a surprise for many as it is election year and Trump and his party are riding on anti-immigration sentiments.

September 10, 2020 / 02:27 PM IST

  1. The US government’s relaxation of rules for H-1B and L-1 visa holders, who are going back to the jobs they held prior to the ban, is definitely a reason to cheer. But the US move will benefit only a section of the visa holders, and for others, it is a wait and watch, say experts.

Stuart Anderson, Executive Director, National Foundation for American Policy, a policy research organisation, said in a Forbes article that the new changes though benefit some, is unlikely to stop lawsuits filed against the proclamation.

These exemptions come close to two months after the proclamation that banned the entry of visa workers in the country and a couple of days after tech giants including Facebook, Google and Microsoft backed the lawsuit filed against the proclamation. The lawsuit was filed on July 15.

What do the new guidelines say and who will benefit?

The new guidelines issued on August 12 by the US Department of State (DoS) allow the entry of H-1B or L-1 workers, who are returning to the same jobs they had prior to the proclamation of the visa ban, into the US, including their dependents, H-4 and L-2 visa holders.

So H-1B or L-1 candidates who have their petitions approved and are working for the same employer can travel now with valid documentation and they cannot be denied entry at the border points. Also, H-4 dependents having a valid visa and whose primary H-1B is in the US will be able to travel as well.

The guidelines also allow entry of technical specialists, senior-level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the US. However, these individuals should be in the space of powering critical infrastructures such as communication, emergency services, financial services, food and agriculture and healthcare.

So these employees could have applied for visa amendment, joining a different company or moving to a different visa classification such as L-1A to L-1B within the same organisation. The catch here is that, the decision to allow them or not would be at the discretion of the consular executives.

IT industry body NASSCOM said the move though welcome gives more room for interpretation by the consular officials. According to the agency, its impact can be gauged only over a period of time.

At this point, it is not clear how much of a benefit it will be and how many of Indians could be impacted. Netra Chavan, who runs one of the largest immigration groups for H-1B and H-4 workers, said, “Overall it is something better than nothing." But it will not benefit all as this leaves many of them out, she added.

For instance, these relaxations will not help those who are unable to get their visa stamped despite satisfying these criteria since consulates are closed. There are close to 1,000 such candidates in India who are unable to travel to the US.

Take for instance Vikram*. He works for an Indian IT firm in the US for close to a decade. However, his visa expired when he came to India in late February 2020 when his father passed away. Technically, he fits all the criteria.

“But I cannot travel since the consulates are closed and cannot get my stamping done,” he said. With his wife, a dependent who is due to deliver their second child in a month, these relaxations hardly help people like him. Here, those with valid visas but had lost their jobs rendering them invalid are not even considered.

Expected in an election year

In an election year, where anti-immigration rhetoric takes centre stage these are to be expected, pointed out immigration experts. This is all the more important in 2020 elections, with Trump and his party riding on anti-immigration sentiments that were key to winning the 2016 elections.

For the record, a Reuters report has pointed out that spends on immigration-related ads by Republican candidates have doubled since 2014 and quadrupled since 2010 to $62.4 million this year. “Immigration messaging has surged across the spectrum of Republican-held districts – highly competitive swing seats and reliably Republican ones, in places with immigrant populations both large and small,” the report added.

Joe Biden, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, takes the opposite stand. Jacob Sapochnick, an immigration lawyer, said in a post that, “All current Democratic candidates have demonstrated their intention to complete reverse Donald Trump’s policies on immigration, and all are in favor of passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

Democrat Party’s Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris is an advocate of H4 EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) that allows dependents of H-1B holders to work in the US. There are more than 75,000 Indian spouses in the US who will be benefitted from H4 EAD.  The Trump administration is looking to do away with the H4 EAD, introduced in 2015 by the Obama administration.

Swathi Moorthy