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Setback for Indians? Trump Admin Proposes to Scrap Computerised Lottery System for H-1B Visas

US President Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff (not pictured) participating in a phone call with the US Vice President, Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AFP File)

US President Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff (not pictured) participating in a phone call with the US Vice President, Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AFP File)

The DHS said the proposed amendment is expected to help address the downward stress on the wages of American workers that is generated because of a yearly influx of relatively lower-paid, H-1B workers.

The Trump administration has proposed to do away with the computerised lottery system to award H-1B work visas to foreign technology professionals and substitute it with a wage-level-based selection procedure, a decision that is expected to counter the stress on the salaries of US workers.

On Thursday, a notification on the revised system is being issued in the Federal Register. Stakeholders have a month's time to reply to the notification, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Wednesday. The move also assumes significance as it comes less than a week ahead of the US presidential elections.

The DHS said the proposed amendment is expected to help address the downward stress on the wages of American workers that is generated because of a yearly influx of relatively lower-paid, new cap-subject H-1B workers.

"Prioritisation and selection based on wage levels better balances the interests of petitioners, H-1B workers, and US workers."

The H-1B visa, most desired by Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that permits US companies to hire foreign workers in speciality occupations that need theoretical or technical expertise. The H-1B program was set up under President George HW Bush to allow companies to fill up niche jobs as the tech sector started to witness a boom and it became difficult to find qualified workers. Many companies maintain they still need the program to fill key positions.

The US can issue up to 85,000 H-1B visas per year for jobs such as computer programmers, accountants, architects and database administrators. They are generally issued for an initial period of three years and can be renewed. People from India and China constitute the majority of the estimated 500,000 H-1B visa holders in the US.

"The H-1B programme is often exploited and abused by U.S. employers, and their U.S. clients, primarily seeking to hire foreign workers and pay lower wages," Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

Notably, US President Donald Trump, who has been vocal about regulating the US' immigration policies, on June 22, signed the executive order which put a temporary ban on issuing new H-1B and L-1 visas till December 31.

Revamping US' immigration policy is a key poll promise of the Republican leader under his America First policy.

"The current use of random selection to allocate H-1B visas makes it harder for businesses to plan their hiring, fails to leverage the H-1B programme to truly compete for the world’s best and brightest, and hurts American workers by bringing in relatively lower-paid foreign labour at the expense of the American workforce," Cuccinelli added.

As per the DHS, revising the H-1B cap selection method by replacing the random selection process with a wage-level-based selection process is a better way to grant H-1Bs when demand exceeds supply. This new selection process would incentivise employers to offer higher wages or petition for positions requiring higher skills and higher-skilled workers instead of using the programme to fill relatively lower-paid vacancies, it said.

"The proposed changes would maintain the effective and efficient administration of the H-1B cap selection process while providing some prospective petitioners the ability to potentially improve their chance of selection by agreeing to pay H-1B beneficiaries higher wages that equal or exceed higher prevailing wage levels," DHS said.

It added that this is necessary to further the administration’s goal of prioritising H-1B cap-subject registrations for petitioners seeking to employ higher-skilled and higher paid workers, which is more aligned with the general congressional intent for the H-1B programme.

Similarly, it disincentivises abuse of the H-1B programme to fill lower-paid, lower-skilled positions, which is a significant problem under the present selection system. With limited exceptions, H-1B petitioners are not required to demonstrate a labour shortage as a prerequisite for obtaining H-1B workers, it said. The number of H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those filed for the advanced degree exemption, has frequently exceeded the annual H-1B numerical allocations.

For at least the last decade, USCIS has received more H-1B petitions than the annual H-1B numerical allocation in those respective years. Since the fiscal 2014 cap season (April 2013), USCIS has received more H-1B petitions (or registrations) in the first five days of filing (or the initial registration period) than the annual H-1B numerical allocations. The congressionally-mandated H-1B visa has an annual cap of 65,000 visas.

(With PTI inputs)

first published:October 29, 2020, 10:41 IST