PHOTO BY: Tejinder Singh

Brady Press Room in the White House

Washington, DC – The much talked about in recent times – at least in immigrant communities – H1B visa was in the spotlight when President Donald Trump tweeted: “H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the US.”

The White House staff confirmed an ongoing review of the immigration system including H-1B program but there were no immediate changes to the present H1B visa holders nor for the applicants.

According to a White House official on background to IAT, “The President has been clear that eventually he wants a lasting to solution to our entire immigration system but that first, we need to solve the immediate issue by opening the government and passing strong border security.”

There are no immediate changes to visa application and issuance procedures. It is interesting to note that soon after taking office, President Trump directed the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security through an Executive Order to propose reforms to the H-1B visa program for employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens who come temporarily to the United States.

Nations across the globe as well as job seekers, especially within the IT sector, were alarmed by President Trump’s executive order promoting the Buy American, Hire American agenda. This executive order affected how the government procures goods used in federally funded projects, in addition to the laws governing immigration and visa programs.

According to the Presidential tweet, the H-1B visa program would issue visas to the “talented and highly skilled people,” along with a path to the US citizenship.

IAT reached out to individuals who underwent the process in addition to different legal identities, think-tank pundits, and businesses to get their reactions.

Hiren Shah from New Jersey called it “a positive message from our President to acknowledge that the H1B workers are the key to the growth, innovation and economy of our country, United States.” Shah, Head of Project Management Office for a Financial Services Company in NYC hope that “he (President Trump) takes into consideration of the uncertainty and stress that the H1B holders and their families have to go through due to the complicated process of obtaining Green Card and then to become a US Citizen.”

Recalling their own struggle, Shah said, “It took us almost 15 years to go through that long cycle and I hope that qualified and skilled workers that add so much value to our country are not kept in a limbo and treated well, so we could retain them for our own good.”

Welcoming the tweet, Richard M. Rossow, India Chair of the Washington, DC based think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said, “This is a surprisingly welcome tone, considering the President has generally called for tightening H1B regulations, such as threatening to curtail the Executive Order allowing spouses of H1B visa holders to work. We will have to wait for more detail on what is proposed before determining its merit.” Highlighting an ongoing global trend, Rossow advised, “The entire world is scrambling to create skilled technology workforces, so I do hope the United States maintains a welcome mat. This is a critical pathway to keeping a competitive economy,”

Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), a business organization told IAT, “We encourage changes to the H1-B program that would promote a level playing field and path to citizenship for the many Indian immigrants who seek to contribute to the US economy.”

Attorney Ramesh Khurana, US Supreme Court and Member, American Immigration Lawyers Association explained in details what is the present situation, what is at stake and what can be expected. Noting that H1-B visas are temporary work visas granted to persons, who work in specialized fields, with at least a bachelor degree or equivalent in the specific field of study, Khurana said, “President Trump tweeted Friday morning about H-1B visa process. He talked about the changes that would bring both “simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship”.”

Commenting on the use of word simplicity, Khurana said, “(it) refers to the already announced upcoming change for H-1B process regarding electronic pre-registration with USCIS during a designated registration period. The plan is to conduct random selection, known as lottery, if the number of registrations received, is more than required number of petitions for the cap. As per the new program, the lottery will be at the stage of pre-registered petitioners. So, the petitioners will not be required to file H-1B petitions and spend money and efforts to find that the petitions are not selected in the lottery.”

Remarking on the uncertainty still prevailing in the field, Khurana said: “However, as of now, it is not confirmed if it will happen for the upcoming H-1B season starting from April 1, 2019. USCIS probably may not have enough time to implement the system. Moreover, the rule is just proposed and it has not yet become final.”

With hundreds of petitions being denied, H-1B visa holders are left with no options but to go back to their home countries as after denial of petitions they do not want to incur unlawful presence. The unlawful presence triggers bars up to ten years.

Attorney Khurana cautioned that USCIS has assumed the responsibility to protect American jobs and deny H-1B petitions on grounds of lack of specialty occupation, and so forth, and added, “It is currently abundantly challenging to obtain approval of H-1B petitions with wage level I. The idea is to provide entry-level jobs to an existing pool of unemployed works in the United States.”

The use of words “path to citizenship,” was found “a little baffling” by Attorney Khurana as he noted, “H-1B employees are already eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status – popularly called as green card, which leads to citizenship.” On the long wait faced by Indian and Chinese applicants, Attorney Khurana explained: “Undoubtedly, the waiting period for green cards depends upon the nationality of applicants. There is a long wait for Indian and Chinese nationals as their priority dates are not current. Once the H-1B visa holders become the green card holders, they wait for five years to apply for citizenship. So, every H-1B employee currently has a pathway to citizenship. Thus, nothing new in the tweet.”

Jesse Singh, a staunch supporter of the president and flag bearer of Sikh Americans for Trump told IAT, “President Trump’s tweet on H1B re emphasizes that he is not against immigration but illegal immigration.” The thought has been repeatedly echoed by the Trump Administration officials repeatedly over last two years.

Welcoming the Presidential sentiment in the tweet, Ravi Batra, an eminent attorney from New York told IAT: “Applaud President Trump for his embrace of talent-based immigration as a means of enhancing American economy and strength, all of which will help the weakest Americans to have a better life with a lower national debt burden on our children’s’ children. This will create new jobs from across the social spectrum helping everyone.” Batra found it worthy of note, “ President Trump’s creating a Path to Citizenship – as we need to replenish the John Wayne’s True Grit with immigrant work ethic – if America is going to remain Number One!”

Looking at the Trump tweet on H1B visa with lots of hope and expectation, Devang Shah, partner in Shah and Kishore Immigration Law firm told IAT, “President Trump’s tweet is hopefully a change of heart towards the H-1B Visa program. The administration with its “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order has created more difficulty and uncertainty in obtaining approvals of H-1B visas.”

Commenting on the legalities of the changes that are possible only through legislation, Devang Shah said, “Major changes to the H-1B program such as reforming the per country limitation resulting in decades long waits for permanent resident status would require Congress to pass legislation,” concluding, “At this point President Trump’s tweet is merely a tease without any concrete proposals.”


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