US President Joe Biden on January 20 signed immigration bill that would reverse Donald Trump’s protectionist immigration policies.
One of the provisions of the bill was to provide US citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 500,000 from India, in an eight-year time frame. But there was more in store for H-1B workers and students who would like to pursue education in the US as well.
What did the bill address?
Clearing green card backlogs for employment based category.
“This bill clears employment-based visa backlogs, recaptures unused visas, reduces lengthy wait times, and eliminates per-country visa caps,” according to a statement that detailed the immigration reform. The bill will also improve access to green cards for workers in lower-wage sectors and eliminate other unnecessary hurdles for employment-based green cards, the statement added.
This would help Indians on H-1B visa, who are waiting to get their hands on green card for a long time. There are about 8 lakh Indians on employment visas like H-1B visa in the green card queue, a large number of whom have been waiting to get their hands on the coveted green cards for more than a decade.
Work authorisation of H-4 visa holders, dependents of H-1B
The bill provides dependents of H-1B visa holders work authorization, which was first introduced when Barack Obama was the President in 2015. This benefited a large number of Indians, who accounted for about 1.06 lakh of H-4 visas as of FY19. This would continue, bringing relief to thousands of Indians in the US.
“The bill makes it easier for graduates of US universities with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the US,” the statement read.
This is good news for students who would like to stay back in the US under Optional Practical Training (OPT), a gateway to get H-1B visa in the US. The Trump administration wanted to remove OPT programme, which allows foreign STEM graduates to work in the US for three years temporarily.
Over the last few weeks, in a last-ditch attempt to push its immigration agenda, the Trump administration passed three final rules that would impact H-1B visa workers. These would impact Indian techies and IT firms, who are one of the largest beneficiaries of the visa.
This included H-1B selection based on wages instead of lottery, wage hikes for H-1B employees and mandate to initiate H-1B visa from both employers and clients.
Of the three rules, mandate to initiate H-1B visa from both employers and clients is unlikely to be implemented as it was never published in the Federal register. The other two rules will not come into effect immediately and could see a delay as agencies review these rules.
The executive order signed on January 20, 2021 read, “… the heads of agencies shall promptly take steps to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies, or portions thereof, implementing or enforcing the Executive Orders… as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, including the Administrative Procedure Act.”
“If in any case such rescission cannot be finalized immediately, the Director and the heads of agencies shall promptly take steps to provide all available exemptions authorized by any such orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” the order read.
What does it mean for Indians and IT firms?
They can be relieved as the bill address issues related to STEM talent and has put on hold rules that would impact the H-1B visas.
Indian IT industry body NASSCOM said in a statement, “President Biden has pledged a new approach on Trade and Immigration, as well as a renewed and revitalized interest in Science and Technology. We appreciate President Biden’s commitment to review and make necessary changes to harmful regulatory policies put in place by the outgoing Administration.”
Most IT firms initiate H-1B visas for their employees to work for their clients in the US. So far, clients did not have to take part in the H-1B application process. The new rule intend to changes that. With the rule yet to be published in the Federal register, this will not come into effect.
It is yet to be seen what would happen to the wage-based rules as they can be challenged in courts or could be revoked by the Biden administration.
V Ramakrishnan, CFO, TCS, in an earlier interaction with Moneycontrol on January 11 referring to H-1B selection based on wages, said, “We don’t know even if these changes will survive. Some of the changes that happened they were successfully legally challenged.”
“Having said that our own dependency on these has come down significantly. So while these may create disruptions, these are part of the business model and we will be able to handle it whichever way the changes happen,” he added.