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The precarious status of H-1B visa holders in the US


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United States (US) President Donald Trump recently signed a new presidential proclamation that imposed a 60-day ban on issuing Green Cards to certain immigrants. India’s information technology (IT) industry and hundreds of thousands of H-1B visa holders in the US — a significant majority of whom are Indian nationals — heaved a huge sigh of relief: The proclamation did not eliminate the 65,000 H-1B visas for fiscal year 2021.

However, H-1B workers, who number more than half a million, are not out of the woods yet. It is unlikely that they will be, till the economy picks up steam, or, at the very least, until all the ballots are counted after the presidential election on November 3.

Some sort of restrictions could be imposed even within weeks. In the proclamation, Trump directed the secretaries of labour and homeland security to review various visa programmes and recommend appropriate measures, “and ensure the prioritisation, hiring, and employment of United States workers”.

Even if no additional measures are implemented, the H-1B community is living in fear of job loss and the thought of having to leave the country. If the economy doesn’t turn the corner, anywhere from 20% to 25% of H-1B employees could lose their jobs, according to one estimate.

Even if the gradual reopening of the economy results in some sort of recovery, there is no question the post-coronavirus pandemic terrain will be challenging for the Indian IT sector in the US. With the health care infrastructure overwhelmed by the pandemic and the economy in the middle of a recession, the upcoming presidential election, which is less than six months away, will be fought largely on these two issues. And jobs, 30 million of them having vanished, will be at the front and centre of the campaign for both sides.

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