The Infosys Technologies campus in Bangalore. Photo: AFP

India’s software sector is worried about reports that the US may impose curbs on some types of visas. US President Donald Trump has proposed suspending several employment-based immigration visas, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Most Indian executives go to the US on H1-B or L-1 visas. When Indian professionals go to the US to work at a client site, they get H1-B visas, but if they go to work at the company’s own office in the US they are issued L-1 visas.

The US government is planning the move in response to the surging unemployment in America caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed suspension could extend into the government’s new fiscal year beginning October 1, when many new visas are issued. It could bar new H-1B visa holders outside the country from coming to the country to work until the suspension is lifted, though visa holders already in the country are unlikely to be affected.

Such a decision by the Trump administration is likely to have an adverse impact on thousands of Indian IT professionals. Already a large number of Indians on H-1B visas have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and are heading home.

The White House, however, said that no final decision has been made and the administration is considering various proposals. The administration is currently evaluating a wide range of options, formulated by career experts, to protect American workers and job seekers, especially disadvantaged and underserved citizens.

The US daily also reported that lawmakers and businesses – including tech companies and seasonal employers – along with colleges and universities, are calling on the administration to abandon the plan. Technology giants Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Accenture are among those petitioning the Trump administration for a continuation of visa regimes that allow them to hire highly skilled immigrants as they will be pivotal to America’s economic recovery in a post-Covid world. Washington-based advocacy organization ITI, which counts these companies and others as its members, said it was “concerned” about the proposed move.

The Indian IT industry, which has long been a beneficiary of the H-1B visa regime, may be impacted if such a suspension continues for a long time. However, experts suggest that getting legal sanction for such a proposal will not be easy. They also point out that this is expected rhetoric in an election year – the presidential election is scheduled for November. Some also point out that similar curbs were made during the 2008 financial crisis, but were later lifted.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies has pointed out that workers on non-immigrant visas such as the L-1 and H-1B were helping to run critical US infrastructure, building products for healthcare and hospitals, among others, and playing a key role in developing treatments for Covid-19. The association has sought the exemption of such workers and claimed the demand for high-tech professionals continues to be robust despite Covid-19.

Indians are the largest beneficiaries of H-1B visas, receiving about two-thirds of the 85,000 new ones issued each year. In addition to Indian IT firms, these visas are also availed by US technology giants such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others. US-based Manpower Group, along with Swiss firm Adecco and Dutch firm Randstad, are among the large subcontractors that supply critical human resources to the global IT industry by availing these visas.

In fact, in recent years US firms have been the key beneficiaries of the H-1B visa – seven of the top 10 in fiscal 2019 were US-headquartered tech firms. Indian companies meanwhile have worked at localizing their talent mix in the US, reducing the number of H-1B visas they apply for each year.

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