Trump plans to streamline H-1B process; critics doubt it

Ritu Jha-


President Donald Trump said his administration is set to change the H1-B visa system to ensure both “simplicity and certainty” and a path to citizenship for skilled people.


“We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the US,” Trump tweeted.


Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of the temporary H1-B visas, 76 percent of which went to professionals from India last year, according to government statistics.


Trump’s tweet came after his visit to the US-Mexico border on to promote his plan for building the wall.


Limiting H1-B visas has been a matter of concern for India and New Delhi has taken it up with Washington.


A total of 85,000 H1-B visas are available each year under regulations imposed by the Congress.


Of these, 20,000 are reserved for those graduating with advanced degrees from US universities


Major US companies have also said that the limiting of H1-B visas and the long waits for permanent residence seriously affect their ability to get and retain talented staff.


But Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, who calls himself a buddy of President Trump and who is the founder of Republican Hindu Coalition, told indica he is hopeful.


“I have maintained in the last three years that President Trump is for merit-based immigration. That includes the elimination of country cap Green Card backlog. The President was quite surprised to learn it was 60-plus years of wait,” Kumar told indica. The president thought that it would take 5 to 6 years. And in his mind, a more than a year is too long.


“Our primary thing is Green Card backlog reduction. It should be reduced to five years [backlog]. After the backlog is cleared it should be six months to a year,” Kumar said, adding that in the 1970s and 1980s, it used to take six months to get a Green Card.


He said that before 2015 when the RHC decided to endorse candidate Trump, a variety of issues were discussed – including aid to Pakistan, economic policies, the need to help small businesses. And immigration.


According to Kumar, Trump has been true to everything he committed to.


Kumar said that the harshness meted out to H-1B visa holders was a fallout of some abuse and fraud in the H-1B visa program and in immigration in general.


Kumar said that when Trump heard of the Green Card backlog, “He was very surprised. So, when he tweeted was a lot more directed towards elimination and reduction of the Green Card backlog.”


Another concern was the cap on Green Cards based on the applicant’s country of origin. The RHC supported Senator Rand Paul, who is close to the president.


“We have been pushing his amendment to the Senate 281, [S.281 – Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act ],” Kumar said. “His amendment is … not a complicated procedure like HR 392 [which] cannot handle the backlog. It is over a million.”


While under HR392, it would take 17 years to get a Green Card, Rand Paul’s amendment doubles H1B visa from 140,000 to 280,000, eliminates the country cap, and also he doesn’t count dependents.


Kumar said that now that foreign aid to Pakistan has been cut, the next item on the agenda is the Green Card. He said the Kumar family has been working hard.


Immigration attorney Cyrus D Mehta

Immigration attorney Cyrus D Mehta told indica he does not trust the president, describing the situation as akin to rubbing salt on open wounds.


For the president to be believed, Mehta said, “The first thing is to make it simple that he can easily do and direct USCIS director to approve H1B like they use to do before.


“These arbitrary denials by no means bring simplicity and certainty in the life of an H-1B visa holder, leave alone providing a path to citizenship, Mehta said in a blog.


However, Mehta said he has proposed a plan, for citizenship. “What I am saying that there might be ways to relieve people from the green card backlogs,” he said, describing a process that eliminated counting dependents.


“Don’t count dependents and everybody is a winner…. If you don’t count them, half or more than half of the quotes go to dependents. Most people have a family of three and of these people, they are in their 30’s then they probably have spouse and children. A lot of people do have a family,” Mehta said.


He wrote in the blog that the outrageous waiting times are due to excessive demand and limited supply of visas, further compounded by the per-country cap, set by Congress each year. On first blush, he wrote, only Congress can change this and not Trump. As Congress is divided, such changes for H-1B visa holders are unlikely for now.


There have been proposals in Congress to eliminate the per country caps, which have yet to pass, he wrote. However, Trump could change the way dependents were counted to dramatically decrease, and ultimately eliminate the backlogs, thus providing a pathway for citizenship to H-1B visa holders.


According to Mehta, prior administrations, such as that of Obama, Bush, Clinton and Bush (senior), got it wrong in this regard. There is no explicit authorization for derivative family members to be counted separately under either the employment-based or family-based preference visas in the Immigration and Nationality Act.


Asked if the president could issue an executive order to speed up the process, Mehta said, “You can’t become a citizen through an executive order but you can facilitate the green card process sooner.”

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