What Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act means for H-1B and Indian IT

Scrapping the 7 percent cap on H-1B visas is sure to bring cheer to India’s IT workforce. But will it earn a vociferous “aye” among right-leaning Republicans? Here’s why India’s hiring pros think HR1044 is a win-win for US and India.

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Nearly 70 percent of IT professionals who come on H-1B visas are Indian – they are mostly young, male and hail predominantly from three southern Indian states (need we say which). Moreover, they have 24 times the chance of being hired as an H-1B visa-holder compared to an average resident hailing from any other country.

So it’s not surprising when hundreds of thousands of IT professionals, each aspiring to live the American Dream, went up in arms with the US imposing a 7 percent cap on H-1B visas allocated to a particular country. But the dark clouds have since passed.   

The US House of Representatives passed the High-Skilled Immigrants Act, eliminating the 7 percent cap for employment-based immigrant visas. Furthermore, the bill roughly doubles the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from 7 percent of the total number of available visas to 15 percent.

Registering a thumping victory, the bill was passed by 365 out of 435 members of the house voting in favour of the amendment.

Almost 300,000 Indians living in the US are expected to benefit from the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act or HR1044. And it’s not just the economic aspect of HR1044 that brings cheer to IT professionals – employees can save years in just waiting for a green flag from Uncle Sam. Recent studies have indicated that the total waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas is more than 70 years.

While the bill can be viewed as a silver lining for Indian IT, its impact on the US economy, though being vociferously opposed by a faction of Republicans, could have positive ramifications on US’ IT market.

Amidst the furore roused by conservationists, it has been pointed out that the Silicon Valley is losing its prime spot to Toronto – a far more accommodating market for skilled IT talent.

Computerworld speaks to IT professional services companies to decode the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, or HR1044 in popular parlance.

“Under current rules, citizens of India are getting about 25 percent of all the professional employment green cards each year. If this bill becomes law citizens of India will get more than 90 percent of the professional employment green card,” says Mahesh Jain, Director & CEO of HireExa, an IT workforce sourcing major.

He adds that the US must understand that it is a country of immigrants, built by immigrants. If the US would like to remain as the top economy in the 21st century, it must adopt favourable policies for immigrants.

Seconding this thought, Abhishek Agarwal, SVP of Judge Group, a US-based IT staffing firm says that better earning opportunities to Indian IT professionals will bring more financial stability in their lives, and this increased earning will give a massive boost to remittances and NRI investment.   

What’s in it for the US?

“Merit-based system is a best move from an immigration policy perspective. Many developed countries like UK and Australia are already following this system, which will provide opportunity for the best talent to enter the US. This will not only reduce the ‘overflow of immigrants’ concern, but also increases the chances of quality resources entering into the US,” opines Jain.

It’s no secret that a prime factor for Indian IT professionals being the blue-eyed boys of the Silicon Valley is salary. More than 50 percent of Indian developers are working on an annual salary of less than USD 10,000. Now that’s almost five times lesser than the average salary drawn by a developer in the US.

The Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act will ensure better working and living conditions for high-skilled employees and will enhance their engagement rate at the workplace, and eventually, the productivity of the businesses will improve. “It's a chain process, and a positive change at any stage of the business will increase the business output,” explains Agarwal.

Although the bill has been passed with a large margin, it remains to be seen if the senate – with its fair share of right-leaning politicians would say aye. However, Agarwal believes that since the bill is already passed in the House of Representatives and as President Trump is also endorsing it, there are fair chances that it will be passed in the senate too.

Sounds great, but spare a thought on the consequent brain drain

Now that we’ve weighed out the implications and benefits of the H-1B amendment on the quintessential dreamy-eyed IT aspirant and the ruddy-cheeked US economy, let’s spare a thought on the crippling dearth of skilled talent in our country.

In the span of a decade, the number of scientists and engineers hailing from India and residing in the US spiked from 21.6 million to a worrisome 29 million.

“The new H-1B guidelines in place promotes the trend of professionals earning a master’s degree from US universities. This will attract the best talents from India, and this is not good news for us in the long term,” explains Jain.

While we cheer the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act and the myriad opportunities it opens up for India’s IT workforce, we leave you with something to chew on: between 2016 and ‘17, the total number of patents filed by all the IITs and NITs, CSIR, DRDO, IISc and ISRO stood at 781. In comparison, Qualcomm (US) had 1840 patents filed in the same time period.

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