As the next round of H-1B visa renewals comes up, Indian techies are pushing for a change in legislation in the US which will allow them to stay there longer, at a time when hiring by US-based companies has come to a near standstill.
For Amit Nagpal (name changed), life changed on February 27. He had been on an H-1B visa, working for retail chain Bed Bath & Beyond, when he got laid off. “Many others also lost their jobs,” he said.s
Nagpal is on the hunt for another job, but nobody is hiring amid the pandemic. “Even on the assumption that things improve by May, it would essentially mean that my H-1B visa will not be valid (then),” he said. According to US laws, H-1B workers have a 60-day grace period of unemployment time during which they can stay in the country legally.
‘The best and the brightest’
An employer applies for H-1B visas for “speciality occupations”. The US government has made repeated changes to the lottery-based system of dispensing these work visas by revising the definition of “speciality occupation”. Visas will be issued to “the best and the brightest foreign nationals, giving preference to those holding a master’s or advanced degree (from the US) by including them in the 65,000 annual visa cap,” the law says.
The window to apply for H-1B visas begins in the first week of April every year.
Seeing the plight of Indian H-1B holders, New Jersey-based Dan Nandan, who runs Hire IT People, started a petition calling for an extension of the grace period from 60 to 180 days, considering the extraordinary circumstances. “Within three days, we hit 14,000 signatures,” he said.
While there is no data available on the number of Indians whose H-1Bs are expiring shortly, industry watchers peg it at over one lakh.
Further, if the 60-day grace period ends without an H-1B renewal, returning home may not be an option, as India has imposed an entry ban on people coming from abroad. Nandan also believes that many H-1B visa holders may be laid off. “I am not sure how they are protected from termination,” he said.
Indian companies which typically garner the bulk of H-1B visas have borne the brunt of visa denials, which have touched an all-time high. Data from the US Citizen and Immigration Services indicate that the top four IT services firms — TCS, Infosys, HCL Technologies and Wipro — saw about half of their work visa applications getting rejected in calendar 2018.
Despite this, the $191-billion India IT sector saw its software services export increase 16.9 per cent to ₹8.24-lakh crore in 2018-19, according to RBI data.