Vikram Desai, an IT professional on H-1B visa cleared for Green Card, says when he and his wife first heard of President Donald Trump’s order suspending work visas, they panicked.
“We have parents in the high-risk category of those vulnerable to Covid-19 and our first thoughts were that if one of us had to leave the US for India we may not be able to return until the end of the year,” he said.
His H-1B visa has expired and he is on extension, which is being granted easily by US authorities in view of the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns. But if he or his wife were to travel to India or anywhere out of the US, they will be unable to return without getting their passports stamped with renewed visas.
That was already a problem with consular operations closed at US missions, and now with the suspension until end of the year, it’s an even worse.
“It feels just safer to stay in the US,” Desai said, adding, “things are so uncertain at this time.”
Many Indians on H-1B or in line for Green Cards are stranded in India already because of no commercial flights. They have begun to make their way back, slowly.
“This is a Hindu Ban much like the Muslim Ban,” said one of those impacted by the suspension, referring to the controversial ban imposed on the entry of people from some Muslim majority countries by Trump early on in his presidency, which remains in force, in a version diluted by legal challenges.
This person may have actually meant an “India ban”, not a Hindu ban, because Indians, irrespective of their religion, have been the largest beneficiaries of the suspended H-1Bs and H-4, that are given to spouses of H-1B visa-holders cleared for the Green Card. It allows the spouses to work.
Indians are the largest beneficiaries of both H-1Bs (more than 70% of the annual 85,000) and H-4 (for spouses and unmarried children). Indians accounted for 93% of the 126,853 H-4 EAD (employment authorization document) applications approved till December 2017, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan provider of data and analysis to US congress, based on numbers from the USCIS.
This is because the queue for Green Cards is the longest for Indians and the current waiting time is statistically estimated to be over 100 years. H-4 was introduced by President Barack Obama in 2015 as an incentive for these Green Card hopefuls. The Trump administration wants to rescind it.
Pramila Jayapal, the Indian American congresswoman who led an joint appeal by lawmakers to the administration to not cancel H-4, slammed Trump’s new order in a post on twitter: “For months, Trump has been desperately trying to do anything to open the country back up and return to ‘normal’. EXCEPT for those who are immigrants seeking to contribute to this country,” she wrote, and added, “We must defeat Trump’s racist and white nationalist agenda.”
But for some IT services companies that use H-1Bs to hire workers from India, or elsewhere, the Monday order was “not as bad as feared”.
“I breathed a sigh of relief,,” said Deepali Khadakban, owner of New Jersey-based Precision Technologies. Based on news reports and speculation, they had expected a hike in H-1B visa processing fee, which is paid by the employer, a change in the qualification for H-1B, and an end of work authorization for graduates as part of their course.
As of now, the suspension will only push the joining date for new hires coming from India, from October, the usual starting time, by a few months to December.