Fear is growing among highly-skilled Indian workers in the H-1B visa program as United States borders continue to tighten under President Trump’s immigration policies.
A draft of an executive order revealed that the Trump administration could re-examine a range of visa programs to ensure they protect “the jobs, wages and well-being of United States workers.” The H-1B visa program, which provides visas for highly skilled foreign workers, would be included in the review.
The pending re-examination of the program has H1-B visa holders looking for backup plans, and employers debating alternative business models.
“It’s like getting kicked in the stomach,” said Santosh Pillai, 51, who works for a U.S. computer-chip manufacturer. Pillai has worked in the country for more than a decade and is awaiting approval of his green card, but he is now worried that he and his family will be forced to leave. “The future is very uncertain.”
The H-1B visa program is intended to bring in foreign workers with skills that are scarce in the U.S. workforce. Critics assert that the program is too often used to bring in tech workers, many from India, who will work for lower wages than Americans.
The U.S. government allows the issuance of 85,000 H1-B visas annually. Demand is so high that for the last four years the number of applications has surpassed 85,000 in less than a week, prompting a lottery.
Trump made a campaign promise to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program,” but U.S. tech companies are leery of new restrictions.
“It is the enlightened immigration policy of this country that even made it possible for me to come here in the first place, and gave me all this opportunity,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, who was born in India, told employees last month.
Blake Irving, chief executive of GoDaddy Inc., claimed earlier this month via LinkedIn that there are “currently more than half a million high-skill IT and computer science jobs sitting unfilled in the U.S. today,” and that Trump’s executive order, if executed, “risks serious consequences for US-based tech companies’ ability to hire elite global talent.”
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