Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • The US administration said it was extending the 60-day ban on immigration and non-immigrant worker visas till the end of 2020.
  • Popular work visas including the much-coveted H-1B and H-2B, and certain categories of H-4, J, and L visas shall also remain suspended until December 31, 2020.
  • Trump has also made sweeping changes to the H-1B work visa norms, which will no longer be decided by the currently prevalent lottery system.

What are H-1B, H-2B, L and other work visas?

  • In order to fill a vacuum of highly-skilled low-cost employees in IT and other related domains, the US administration issues a certain number of visas each year which allows companies from outside the US to send employees to work on client sites.
  • Of these work visas, the H-1B remains the most popular among Indian IT companies.
H-1B: Person is Specialty Occupation: To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree of its equivalent. Includes fashion models of distinguished merit and ability and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defence.
  • Apart from the H-1B visas, the US government also issues L1 visas which allows companies to transfer highly skilled workers to US for a period of up to seven years.
  • H-2B visas allow food and agricultural workers to seek employment in the US.

Why did the US suspend non-immigrant worker visas?

  • The technology boom coupled with the arrival of the internet and low-cost computers in developing nations such as India and China saw a large number of graduates willing to work at relatively low costs in the US, a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee.
  • However, it has since often been criticised for sending low cost workers to the US at the expense of domestic workers.

Who all does it impact?

  • Since the ban is effective immediately, the processing of all new H-1B, H-2B, J, and L visa categories stand suspended.
  • This means those who do not have a valid non-immigrant visa as of June 23, and are outside of the US, will not be allowed to enter the country until December 31.
  • Workers in essential services in the food sector have been given some reprieve, and their entry shall be decided by the consular officer of immigration services.

How does it impact Indian IT companies?

  • Indian IT companies are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the US H-1B visa regime, and have since 1990s cornered a lion’s share of the total number of visas issued each year.
  • As of April 1, 2020, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said Indians had applied for 67 per cent of the total H-1B work visas for the current financial year.
  • This could result in a significant impact on margins and worker wages of Indian IT companies which send thousands of low-cost employees to work on client sites in the US.

-Source: Indian Express

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