Trump begins clampdown on H-1B visas

Varun Aggarwal Mumbai | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on April 04, 2017


Entry-level programmers will not get visas; scrutiny of firms seeking visas to be stepped up; little impact on Indian firms, says Nasscom

In a fresh blow to Indian software professionals, the Trump administration has moved to bar entry-level programmers from the H-1B visa programme.

The new policy also warned of higher scrutiny on companies that have a higher ratio of H-1B visa workers as compared to American workers.

The policy, aimed at ensuring that H-1B visas are used for highly skilled professionals, could force companies to give low- and mid-level jobs to American workers.

Under the new policy, released by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), companies applying for H-1B visas for programming positions will have to prove that the jobs are complex and require professional degrees.

The policy is part of a series of laws by the Trump administration that aim to make it tougher for foreign tech workers to gain entry into the US.

No more a speciality

The agency said that programmers will not be considered part of the ‘speciality occupation’ category anymore. “The fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his/her job is not sufficient to establish the position as a speciality occupation,” the USCIS Policy Memorandum ruled.

The USCIS said it would enhance scrutiny on H-1B petitioners and the work sites of H-1B employees by taking a targeted approach when making site visits across the US.

Big players

The Indian IT industry, however, downplayed the impact of the rules. “The clarifying guidance should have little impact on Nasscom members as this has been the adjudicatory practice for years and also, as several of our member executives have noted recently, they are applying for visas for higher-level professionals this year,” said a Nasscom statement.

Industry experts feel that though the policy will increase scrutiny, the move is on expected lines.

“It is not a death-knell for the industry. The industry has been gearing up for a more regulated regime and already most of the H-1B applications are not for entry-level programmers.

“There will be a small cost impact as scrutiny will be higher now. But it will not be significant,” Mritunjay Singh, President and Executive Director at Persistent Systems, told BusinessLine.

However, smaller IT firms, mostly those into body shopping, will be impacted. “There are a lot of body shopping companies in the US who take in people who have an H-1B visa and put them on small projects. A bulk of these will be low-level programmers — with 5-10 years of experience. Those are the people who will be affected,” explained Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO at recruitment firm Headhunters.

Two-pronged strategy

Indian IT services companies have already reduced their reliance on flying techies from India in anticipation of increased restrictions in the country and have increased local hiring in the US.

The change in strategy is two-pronged — abandon the path of taking talent from India on work visas and dip into the local labour pool, and speed up the transformation to a business model that is less reliant on headcount and more focussed on adopting new technology platforms.

This, however, has had a dampening effect on campus placements in India.

Campus recruitment down

“Visa issues, coupled with the impact of automation in the IT sector, are already showing an effect on campus hiring, which has gone down by as much as 40 per cent this year,” Lakshmikanth said.

Experts said that though the tightening visa rules will be painful for Indian IT firms in the short-term, they could also force them to move up the value chain and change their business models.

“H-1B abuse is very high and it is important to check the abuse. All Indian players will adjust to it pretty soon,” said Sanchit Gogia, Chief Executive at Greyhound Research.

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Published on April 04, 2017
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