The changes, if legalised, would have a detrimental effect on the functioning of Indian tech companies in the US and also small and medium-sized contractual farms in the IT sector, which are mostly owned by Indian Americans.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
The Donald Trump administration wants to make changes in the existing H-1B provisions for it to play a better role in attracting highly skilled foreign workers as opposed to what it has now evolved into an "outsourcing" role, the White House said on Thursday.
The H1B visa, popular among Indian IT companies and professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
The US government is planning to revise the definition of specialty occupations under H-1B visas as well as the definition of employment under this foreign work visa category, which is popular among Indian companies.
Such a move, which is part of the Unified Fall Agenda of the Trump administration would have a detrimental impact on the functioning of Indian IT companies in the US and also small and medium-sized contractual farmss in the IT sector, which are mostly owned by Indian Americans.
"The president's overall instinct -- and he said this publicly a number of times -- he wants to find ways to make sure that people who graduate in a highly skilled area like technology stay in the country.
“He finds that a very positive part of the overall immigration," White House deputy chief of staff for policy coordination Chris Liddell told a Washington audience on Thursday.
During the Washington Post's live discussion on new technology, when asked about the president's thoughts on H-1B immigration, Liddell said, "He (Trump) has talked about merit immigration, clearly that (H-1B) fits in merit immigration."
At the same time, he acknowledged that legislatively, the issue might get caught up in a border discussion.
A former executive at Microsoft and General Motors, Liddell is tasked with overseeing and coordinating President Trump's policy process.
"To the extent that we can form a regulatory point of view rather than a legislative point of view, because the H-1B system to a large extent is governed by legislation -- but to the extent that we can modify the regulatory point of view to promote it to be more highly skilled as opposed to outsourcing roles, there's 1,20,000 H-1Bs. So it's quite a big pool," the White House official said.
"Traditionally, unfortunately they have gone to lower-skilled outsourcing types of jobs," Liddell said.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to come out with the new proposal by January 2019.
The Trump administration, Liddell said, would love to find ways to change that as more people are coming out with PhDs in the tech sector.
"So the president is 100 per cent aligned with that.
“We'll try and do it as much as we can by regulatory; if it can be done legislatively as well in some way that would as part of a merit-based system, that would be fantastic," he said.
The top White House official emphasised that there is need to carry on reforms in H-1B to keep more talented graduates in this country.
This is an incredibly constructive part of the immigration debate which, unfortunately doesn't get a lot of focus, he said.
Liddell said President Trump has repeatedly spoken about merit-based reform as part of the immigration platform.
The Silicon Valley and the tech industry should welcome that as a concept, he said.
"Relatively, as a country, a very small proportion of the people who come in as legal immigrants do it on a merit-based system relative to any other country I know,” he said.
"So promoting the concept of merit-based immigration, which clearly would be at least partially orientated towards the tech sector, I would think that there should be a high degree of alignment on," Liddell added.