Reopening American businesses need talent critical to the recovery phase.
By Arun Kumar
Amid reports that the Trump administration is considering suspending the H-1B visa coveted by Indians through fall, an Indian IT body has sought exemption for technology workers from restrictions in the offing.
As US business reopen after over two months of covid lockdown, it is important for them to access talent critical to the recovery phase, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) said Friday.
American enterprises need access to essential technology workers who are keeping critical infrastructure operating, said the trade association of Indian Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing industry.
“These include healthcare, hospitals and online services and playing key roles to develop treatments for this (covid-19) disease — to name a few vital services,” it said.
“Highly skilled workers on non-immigrant visas (NIVs) such as H-1Bs and L-1s, are playing critical roles in the delivery of these services and the development of these products,” NASSCOM said.
Without their continued contributions, the trade association said “the economic pain would worsen, industry would slow, and the timeline for a treatment and cure could lengthen”.
“Given this, we seek exemption for technology workers as essential workers, from any restrictions that may be imposed in a second White House Proclamation,” NASSCOM said.
Indian nationals who account for over two-thirds of the H-1B visas issued annually would be adversely affected by the proposed suspension of H-1B visa trough fall or beyond.
The suspension could even extend into the next fiscal year, which begins October 1, the beginning of the new H-1B season, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday citing “administration officials familiar with the talks.”
The report said while that “could bar any new H-1B holder outside the country from coming to work until the suspension is lifted,” visa holders already in the United States “are unlikely to be affected.”
Apart from the H-1B program, L-1 and J-1 visas will also be affected, the Journal said. However, health-care professionals treating coronavirus patients and workers in the food supply chain will be spared.
NASSCOM said, “Priorities established by DHS’ CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) that designates key categories of ICT (information and communication technology) workers as essential service, should help define the types of essential workers,” it said.
Demand for high-tech skills remains strong among employers in the US labour market, even amidst the current covid-19 crisis, it noted.
Unemployment rate for computer occupations (those most common among H-1B visa holders) declined from 3 per cent in January 2020 to 2.5 per cent in May 2020, while unemployment rate for all other occupations grew from 4.1 per cent in January 2020 to 13.5 per cent in May 2020, NASSCOM said.
Also, in the 30-day period ending May 13, 2020, there were over 6,25,000 active job vacancy postings advertised online for jobs in common computer occupations, including those most common to H-1B visa holders, it said citing analysis of Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Current Population Survey by the National Foundation for American Policy.
“The data raises significant questions about using the argument of unemployment rate for computer professionals to justify the new restrictions on H-1B visa holders and international students working on optional practical training (OPT),” it said.
The industry body said non-immigrant visa programs like the H1-B and L-1 enable the US businesses to bridge the STEM skills deficit and access skilled tech workforce not available locally, thereby ensuring they can deliver on projects that keep them on the leading-edge of global competitiveness.
Meanwhile, the US Chambers of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue on Thursday wrote a letter to President Trump, expressing concern over his reported move on temporary work visas.
American businesses need both short term L-1 visa holders as also longer term H-1B visa holders in various industries, including technology, accounting and manufacturers, Donohue was quoted as saying by The Hill newspaper.