Tech expats in USA fear Trump effect on visa programme

Published:  23 Nov at 6 PM
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Expats working in USA tech hubs are afraid their skilled worker visa programme may be terminated by Trump.

Following Donald Trump’s mixed messages on the campaign trail concerning the USA’s skilled worker visa programme, tech workers in Silicone Valley and other American IT hubs are afraid for their jobs. Before the presidential election, the industry had been lobbying for an expansion to the programme, which at present admits 65,000 workers and 20,000 graduate students every year.

Trump’s campaign trail speeches sometimes trashed the visa and sometimes praised it for its retention of foreign talent, but lobbyists and immigration attorneys are now fearing a rearguard action may be necessary to protect the programme. The enemy seems to be Trump’s appointee Sessions, who has in the past attempted by use of legislation to restrict the issuance of H-1B visas to outsourcing companies including Infosys.

Sessions believes thousands of US workers are being forced out of tech jobs by foreign labour. The H1B visa was introduced to cover speciality occupations which demanded a college education, and are used by tech companies when hiring foreign, highly skilled tech workers.

Most employers help their expat employees get the so-called ‘green cards’ which allow them to work permanently in the US, although India-based Infosys uses the H1B visa for lower-paid contractors who rarely get the prized green cards. Employers must apply to join a US Immigration lottery for the required number of visas annually, with applications far exceeding the number of visas on offer.

US law sets a cap on the annual number, with each visa tied to a specific job. The format of allocating visas is controversial, with some large companies using the programme to get rid of in-house IT specialists in favour of cheaper contractors.

The H1B visa system, as with much else slammed by Trump during his campaign, may or not be under threat, but it’s not perfect as workers holding the visas often struggle to change jobs whilst avoiding deportation. This situation is being used by employers as an excuse to lower salaries, whereas the visas were intended to encourage the brightest and best IT specialists to emigrate to the USA.
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