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Changed H-1B visa norms: Computer programmers feel the heat

New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) Just a few days before the new season for H-1B visas for skilled workers started, the US authorities have tightened the norms for hiring computer programmers, putting a squeeze on Indian IT companies.

On March 31, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a clarification that computer programmers, to be eligible under the H-1B visa norms, must prove that theirs is a speciality occupation. Merely obtaining a computer degree may not be enough.

In its policy memorandum USCIS has mentioned: “Based on the current version of the Handbook, the fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his or her job is not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation.

US Embassies around the world started accepting next year’s H1-B visa petitions from April 3. Indian techies are the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas — obtaining around 70 per cent of such visas — with companies posting thousands of employees to the US. The visas allows work in the particular area for six years, extendable after that. It’s also the route to a US permanent residency or US Green Card.

The memorandum says that “a petitioner may not rely solely on the Handbook to meet its burden when seeking to sponsor a beneficiary for a computer programmer position. Instead, a petitioner must provide other evidence to establish that the particular position is one in a specialty occupation…”

The US Congress has set a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year. Additionally, 20,000 such visas are given to those with master’s or higher degrees from the US.

At the same time, the immigration services have moved to detect H-1B visa frauds in the US by taking a “more targeted approach” on site visits across the country aimed at finding out if employers were evading their obligations to make a good faith effort to recruit US workers.

“Too many American workers who are as qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged,” says a press release issued by the USCIS on Monday adding that “protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment based immigration programs is a priority of USCIS.”

The immigration services warned employers that they would not be allowed to “abuse the H-1B program” which it said affects US workers negatively, decreasing wages and job opportunities. A position that US President Donald Trump has often endorsed.

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