Donald Trump's new executive order on H1B visas to hit Indian techies

US President Donald Trump is expected to sign a new executive order aimed at strangulating work-visa programmes, including the H1B and L1 visas used by Indian IT professionals, as part of a larger immigration reform effort, a top White House official has said.

The executive order drafted by the Trump Administration not only strangulates H-1B and L1 visas, but also increases inspector raj and ends employment authorisation cards to spouses on such work visas, which was recently introduced by the previous Obama Administration.

The draft of the order was leaked and published by some news websites yesterday.

"I think with respect to H1Bs and other visa is part of a larger immigration reform effort that the President will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily news conference.

"You've already seen a lot of action on immigration and I think whether it's that or the spousal visas or other type of visas, I think there's an overall need to look at all of these programmes. You'll see both through executive action and through comprehensive measures a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa programme," Spicer said.

As per the leaked draft order, Trump would reverse Obama's extension of the duration of the optional practical training work visas, which allowed foreign students to stay in the US a bit longer after completion of their studies.

Within 90 days of the signing of the executive order, the Secretary of Homeland Security would have to review all regulations that allow foreign nationals to work in the US and determine which of those regulations violate the immigration laws or are not in the national interest of America.

It would also immediately terminate all parole policies.

The executive order will also ask the Secretaries of Labour and Homeland Security to restore the integrity of employment-based non-immigrant worker programmes and better protect US and foreign workers affected by these programmes.

The draft order seeks the administration to "consider ways to make the process of allocating visas more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the programmes are the best and the brightest."

It also proposes to establish a commission or advisory committee to analyse the nation's current immigration policies and their impact on the American society, economy, work force, and the foreign policy and national security interest of the United States.

The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialised fields. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.

Trump signed an executive order banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries to enter the US on Friday.

President Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries, inspiring protests at New York's JFK International Airport. (Photo: Bryan R. Smith, AFP/Getty Images)

Trump targets tech's H-1B visa hiring tool

SAN FRANCISCO — President Trump's relationship with Silicon Valley has always been volatile at best, but it seems things soon may get even more contentious.

Administration officials have drafted a new executive order aimed at overhauling, among other things, the H-1B work-visa program that technology companies have long relied on to bring top foreign engineering talent to their U.S.-based locations.

In his news briefing Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the possible executive order on work visas "is part of a larger immigration effort" and stems from "an overall need to look at all of these measures."

The order, which has yet to come into effect, arrives on the heels of Friday's controversial immigration ban targeting seven majority-Muslim countries that sparked protests at airports around the country over the weekend.

That ban, which the White House modified Sunday to not affect green card holders, roiled tech leaders, who almost universally denounced the move.

The CEOs of Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Tesla Motors noted the policy was affecting their own employees working here legally, and would jeopardize their competitive quest for talent. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was among the first to condemn the order, noting that it impacted nearly 200 employees, risking stranding some abroad.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky offered free housing to anyone displaced by the ban, while Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a Facebook post that it was "time to link arms together to protect American values of freedom and opportunity."

This new executive order, which was first reported by Bloomberg, takes aim at both H-1B visas, which are capped at 65,000 a year and are set aside for so-called "specialty positions," as well as visas used for temporary agricultural workers, summer student workers and intracompany transfers.

Tech sector stocks were down 1% on Monday's news.

The order is aimed at ensuring that "officials administer our laws in a manner that prioritizes the interests of American workers and — to the maximum degree possible — the jobs, wages and well-being of those workers," according to a copy of the document provided to USA TODAY.

This executive order would "create a similar chaos to the travel ban," says Sam Adair,  an immigration lawyer at Graham Adair.

"It would be incredibly disruptive to what is a natural part of the recruitment process" for the tech industry, universities, hospitals and biotech, he says.

That process begins April 1, when the annual application process for H-1B visas starts.

But Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of law at Cornell University and expert on immigration law, cautions that the order is only a draft and that it does not set out specific changes to the H-1B visa program, only suggests that it be examined with the thought of what’s best for American workers.

While there have been calls to set a specific wage for H1-B workers so that they do not undercut U.S. workers, it’s not something the president can do unilaterally, Yale-Loehr says.

Current H-1B regulations require that those granted the visa have at least a bachelor’s degree and must be paid the prevailing wage.

“There have been allegations that foreigner workers are coming in at lower wages, if they’re doing that that is violating the current statue," he says.

H-1B visa are used by tech companies, by hospitals looking to hire doctors, especially in medically underserved areas, and by school districts looking to hire language teachers when U.S. teachers are not available.

Technology companies are in an on-going struggle to hire computer-science professionals to power their companies. Executives often claim that they must look overseas because there is a shortage of home-grown math and science graduates.

Critics charge that tech firms lack diversity because they reflexively look to hire white and Asian males and overlook a growing pipeline of women and people of color who are developing programming skills.

Others cite surveys that question the oft-stated shortage of math and science graduates. In 2013, for example, the Economic Policy Institute released a study concluding that the U.S. has “more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.”

The logic went that if there was a domestic labor shortage, wages would rise. But researchers found that salaries remained flat and Americans with science and math degrees found it difficult to get jobs.

The controversial work-visa program has prompted dueling partisan legislation.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has proposed a bill that would award visas to companies willing to pay the highest salaries. A bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) would raise the salary requirement for the positions to $100,000 a year, up from $60,000, and eliminate a master's degree exemption.

Jobs could flee overseas, some contend

Although the debate over the visa program is only likely to escalate, some tech world experts are convinced a more restricted H-1B program would negatively impact the American economy.

Foreign tech workers could "find employment in other countries with more attractive immigration laws and compete against us," says Mark Koestler, business immigration partner at Kramer Levin. "If we turn away professionals who seek H-1B status, we will lose many future entrepreneurs who will create future jobs for Americans in the United States."

The H-1B program is a "critical source of legal, skilled labor for the U.S. economy," says Venky Ganesan, managing director of Menlo Ventures, a venture-capital firm in Silicon Valley. To curtail it, he says, would wreak havoc on how tech companies recruit workers.

"Many who came to the U.S. (via H-1B) end up starting companies in the U.S.," Ganesan says, citing Jyoti Bansal, a native of India who started AppDynamics, a software maker that was sold to Cisco Systems for $3.7 billion last week before AppDynamic planned to go public.

"The best way to create jobs in America is to create companies in America," Ganesan says.

The Partnership for a New American Economy concluded in a 2016 report that 40.2% Fortune 500 firms had at least one founder who either immigrated to the United States or was the child of immigrants. Those firms generated more than $4.8 trillion in revenue in 2014 and employed 18.9 million people globally, the report found.

Well-known tech firms founded by immigrants, including Google, Intel, Yahoo, and Ebay.

Elon Musk has created tens of thousands of U.S. jobs with Tesla and SpaceX, hails from South Africa.

Musk, who is on a new presidential business advisory committee that will meet Friday, was one of a handful of top tech CEOs who met with Trump in New York shortly after the election. At the time, Trump told the assembled leaders of Amazon, Facebook and other household names that "there’s nobody like you in the world … Anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you."

During the campaign, however, some tech leaders were openly critical of Trump and a range of employees vowed they would not use their skills to create a Muslim employee registry as had been suggested.

India freaks out over U.S. plans to change high-skilled visas

Amid the hue and cry over President Trump's travel ban, news of another potential change to American immigration rules has set off a panic attack in India's tech industry.

Major Indian tech shares took a nosedive on Tuesday on reports that Trump is planning to make changes to the H-1B visa program that allows skilled foreigners to work in the U.S.

Shares in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India's biggest private sector employer, plunged more than 5% on Mumbai's stock exchange, while other top firms like Infosys (INFY) and Wipro (WIT) fell by more than 4%.
TCS and Infosys declined to comment. Wipro did not respond to requests for comment.

India's vast outsourcing industry employs millions of people. Its business in the U.S., where it provides engineering and other tech services to firms such as IBM (IBM, Tech30), Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) and Citibank (C), is highly dependent on the H-1B visa.

The U.S. is worth about $65 billion to India's tech industry. Indian media warned of a major setback ahead.
"[It] is a fact that these categories of workers are in short supply in the U.S.," said R Chandrashekhar, president of Nasscom, which represents India's software industry. Restricting H-1B visas would "have implications for both Indian companies and American corporations as well," he told CNNMoney.

The former U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma, estimated last year that 70% of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually go to Indian workers. The visas, which are currently allocated by a lottery system, are hugely oversubscribed -- demand for them in 2016 was three times more than the number available.

Now, that system is under attack on multiple fronts. Three separate bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress this month aiming to curb the program in various ways.

It is also in Trump's crosshairs. A draft executive order obtained by CNNMoney calls for several changes to U.S. immigration rules, although it was not immediately clear what the specific impact on the H-1B visas would be.

"I think with respect to H-1Bs and other visas, it's part of a larger immigration reform effort that the president will continue to talk about," Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday.

Spicer added that Trump will do so "through executive order and through working with Congress."

Silicon Valley lawmaker Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill a week ago, calls for removing the lottery system and replacing it with a preference for companies that can pay the highest salaries.

That would make it far more costly for Indian firms to send their workers to the U.S.

"Cost was the major advantage for Indian companies, and that will get impacted," said D.D. Mishra, a research director at technology consultancy Gartner.

Mishra estimates that up to 30% of employees working on software projects for Indian firms are overseas. The proportion is much higher for hardware projects, meaning companies would struggle if they faced restrictions on the number of Indians they could employ.

"There is very little room to maneuver...without disrupting the quality of work," he said.

The Indian government says it has made its view known to Trump and U.S. lawmakers.

"India's interests and concerns have been conveyed both to the U.S. Administration and the U.S. Congress at senior levels," foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said Tuesday.

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