Since H1B visa restricts new spouses going from India from working, Indians are trying to switch jobs to other countries from the US
Each year, the number of petitions filed by Indians for the H1B is increasing, while the petitions granted for Indian applicants over the last five years has remained steady. (see graphic)
Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha in 2019, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said 70 per cent of all H1B visas granted had gone to Indians. Likewise, 93 per cent of all H4 visas (provided to spouses of H1B holders) had gone to Indians as of 2017.
US under President Trump has also made it more difficult to convert the H1B into a Green Card and subsequently into citizenship. The process that used to take between five and 10 years, now takes 20 or even 30 years.
Spouses of H1B visas are granted a H4 visa under which they are allowed to obtain a drivers’ license, open back accounts and get individual taxpayers identification numbers, but cannot find employment and are not entitled to social security. (A few exceptions are granted an Employment Authorisation Document). Many H4 holders take up jobs for cash payment, working at restaurants or online from home.
The prospect of remaining unemployed for the next 20 years, has prompted many NRI couples to start looking at options in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other countries. Says Aditya Gopalakrishnan, H1B visa holder from Connecticut, “the thought that my wife can’t find employment for maybe 20 years, has forced me to look at options in Singapore. My two-year-old is an American citizen. We are hoping that will help our case”.
Shweta is an H1B holder, who married a Chennai based software engineer in September last year. Her job is too good to give up and her husband, Raghu, does not want to move on a H4. He is trying for an F1 visa for a course that will let him stay for 10 years. The couple is also trying to move to Canada.
The US government, in the meantime, is also trying to make it more difficult for people with temporary visas to become citizens simply on account of having a child in the US.
Even if Indians look for other options, they prefer to be in one of the English speaking countries – US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Of these, UK is the toughest to get into, while Canada is relatively easier, says K Pughazendi, Founder and CEO of Stuforia, an education consultant and recruiter. “Many students go to European countries for higher education and find jobs, but I get requests from Indians in Sweden and Denmark, asking for help in relocating to the US”. In general, Europe is seen as less welcoming than the US or UK.
In a recent trend, many NRIs have opted for Permanent Residency of Canada and work online for US-based companies. It has been reported that the number of Indians who have opted for PR in Canada has gone up by 105 per cent between 2016 and 2019 from 80,685 to 39,705. Canada, which requires one million immigrants to sustain their economic growth by 2020, is inviting skilled professionals and fast-tracking applications. Canada is also giving student visa holders the facility of applying directly for a permanent residency.
Yet another option that is often used is to find employment in a CMM Level 5 company based in India and try to go to overseas through a transfer.
The tightening of procedures is seen as a response to the large-scale misuse of the H1B by unscrupulous Indian tech companies that charge the employee between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 lakh for processing their visas and then sending them to the US on work. Similarly, many Indian couples also used the loophole in the law by moving to the US and immediately planning a family, as being parents of a US citizen made them eligible for citizenship.
American companies began employing H1B holders at lower salaries for jobs that could have gone to locals. A number of Indian families in the past also stayed in the US until they were granted citizenship and then moved back to India to raise their kids. This way, they retained the American passport that opened doors easily in many parts of the world while getting the comfort of home!
The tightening is part of the Trump administration’s `Buy American, Hire American’ (BAHA) Executive Order which seeks to hire Americans where possible and restricting H1B visas to petitioners earning only the stipulated wages for the position. This is to ensure that companies do not hire an outsider just to save on wages.
US-based tech companies are lobbying for the removal of a cap on the H1B visas on the ground that the US should embrace merit and talent and not restrict it because that would go against the very nature of the country that has been built by immigrants.
The other option available for the spouses is to go on an F1 or student visa, the J1 or student exchange visa or the M1 which is granted for specific courses such as pilot training or music. The F1 is the preferred option as it is issued for 5 years. If the applicant opts for a PhD, the visa is for 10 years, with the additional benefit (in some courses) of applying directly for the green card, without going through the H1B.
Says D Nedunchezhiyan, educational consultant, getting jobs is difficult across the board. Our students assume that if they study abroad, they will get jobs and be able to stay back. It’s not so easy. If a person goes on a student visa to a top ranked university and also performs well there, there may be a greater likelihood of landing a job.
Until a few years ago, it was easy to get jobs in Australia. Since 2007, Australia has been asking for IELTS (English language test) scores even for welders and fitters, says Pughazhendi. Many countries, in a bid to achieve a multicultural, multiracial mix of employees ask for more Filipinos and Vietnamese who are considered to be polite and because Indians tend to remain within their groups and not assimilate, he says.
The craze to go abroad is as strong as ever, experts say. Even average income Indian families pull out all the stops when it comes to education and specifically overseas education. Students are willing to go even to places like Yemen and Egypt for unheard of courses, all in the hope that a `foreign education’ will fetch them a better job.
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