India is keeping a watch to see if the US comes up with a list of qualifications to determine the level of skills it prefers in workers who apply for temporary work visas (H-1B) and may raise an objection if it is tied to getting an advanced degree in the country, a government official has said.

“We have had no intimation from the US government so far on whether the proposals to introduce a reverse selection process for H-1B applicants giving first preference to US masters or advance degree holders are to be implemented. But we are closely watching the developments and would raise objections if our allocation gets affected,” a government official told BusinessLine . The Indian industry, dominated by IT companies, is the major recipient of H-1B visas issued by the US every year.

Lottery based system

The US Department for Homeland Securities announced changes in the lottery-based system for granting H-1B visas in January this year (reverse selection order) giving preference to those holding a masters or advance degree from the US by including them in the 65,000 annual visa cap. The agency also said that it plans to revise the definition of a “specialty occupation,” to issue visas to “the best and the brightest foreign nationals.” These changes are expected to be introduced from April 1, 2019.

“We have no idea how many advanced degree holders from US institutions apply for work visas and how much of the visa quota allocation they would fill up. Both the Indian government and Nasscom are trying to find out more about it. They (the US government) have been talking about a lot of changes but as of now they have not implemented anything that would affect the number of H-1B visas issued to Indian professionals. The only issue is how they will do the scrutiny of the H-1B applications and how the talent pool they are seeking will be defined,” the official said.

As per estimates made by DHS, the change will result in an estimated increase of up to 16 per cent (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected petitions for H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a US institution of higher education.

Indian IT companies are apprehensive that the changes may hamper free movement of Indian IT professionals for projects in the US. As per Nasscom, Indian IT companies have invested billions of dollars in the US, and employed more than 1.5 lakh people. “There is a lot of opposition to the changes in the H-1B visa rules even within the US industry. There are chances that the proposed changes would not get implemented at all,” the official said.