Immigration Changes Worry Indian Tech Workers

(ESPAÑOL) Indian tech students in America are worrying new “America first” immigration changes may affect their futures.

In order to work in the United States, educated foreigners must get a type of temporary work visa called an H-1B. This has long been a ticket to America for Indian students. Indian nationals working in the tech sector are the largest recipients; almost 70 percent of H-1B visas were granted to Indians in 2015, according to estimates by Bloomberg.

But on April 18, Trump signed a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that promises to switch these visas from a random lottery system to one that gives preference to those with the highest level of skills or the highest pay. The order says it will “protect the interest of the United States workers in the administration of our immigration system …”

It’s unclear exactly who qualifies as a high-skilled worker under the order. But no doubt it will be harder for foreigners to find jobs because employers will have to prove they can’t find Americans with equivalent sets of skills.

Each year, the U.S. holds a lottery for 85,000 H-1B visas, of which 20,000 are reserved for holders of advanced degrees.

The H-1B program was designed as a transitional stage between temporary employment and permanent residency. An employer may choose to apply for a green card for the worker, but getting one can take as long as 10 to 12 years depending on the worker’s home country. Workers from India and China tend to wait the longest because they get the most applications.

Indian IT outsourcing companies take the most H-1B recipients, paying them a lower wage than they would American workers. In some cases, an H-1B worker is 40 percent cheaper than an American.

H-1B workers declined to comment for this story, saying they were afraid of the consequences of speaking publicly. If an employer decides to fire an H-1B worker, the worker can immediately be deported.