Mr. Trump this week suspended the issuance of several visas, including H-1Bs, a skilled worker program often used by tech companies, for the rest of the year as part of sweeping immigration restrictions , in response to the pandemic.
Indians represent approximately 70% of H-1B incumbents, of which 85,000 are allocated each year. Lots of work at US, tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, as well as Indian contractors like Tata Consultancy Services.
The president’s effort to suppress immigration, including what he sees as H-1B visa abuse for cheaper hire of foreign labor instead of Americans, has fueled tensions between the India and the United States, despite efforts by Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve ties. He also invited accusations of discrimination against Indian workers.
Shivendra Singh, vice president of the Indian IT industry group at Nasscom, said Indian workers hold thousands of jobs that would otherwise not be filled.
“H-1B has a critical bridge to the skills gap visa in the United States,” he said. “There is this perception that if you bring in people from the outside they are going to increase unemployment and jobs for locals, Americans will go down, [which] it’s not the case.”
But the timetable for the initiative, with coronavirus bans and travel restrictions still in effect, means that workers who have returned to India to renew their H-1B visas are stuck. Lawyers estimate that more than 1,000 Indians have been separated from jobs and families in the United States.
Vinod Winston, who works as a consultant for an IT company near Atlanta, traveled to India in February to take care of his sick father, who later died. Before he was able to get the visa, he had to go home, India went into lockdown in March and US consular services closed.
Restrictions say Winston may not be able to return to his pregnant wife and young son in the United States for the rest of the year. “The way it is done is inhuman,” he says. It is “voluntary prohibition, ie those who are outside of US will not return”.
Poorva Dixit, who works as a software engineer in Fremont, California, fears of being separated from her six- and three-year-old daughters also being stranded in India as she tried to renew her visa.
“I have been living in the United States for 14 years. I did my master’s, I have a house, I have a life, I have family there, ”she said. “I don’t know how it will help him.”
A spokesman for the US Embassy in New Delhi, confirmed that valid visa-free people would not be able to return, with certain exceptions, including food from the workers’ supply chain.
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Trump’s critics have said that visas are crucial to helping high-tech companies in America attract international talent. Sundar Pichai, the Google-born CEO who was born in India, said this week that immigration has made US “a world leader in technology”.
“The whole exercise in my mind is political posturing,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration law firm operating in India and the United States. “When you hear human stories [it] seems so cruel. ”
Pramod Alagandhula, who returned to Hyderabad with his family when his father fell ill, sends his daughter, an American citizen, back to Lansing, Michigan, in time for the start of the new school year. But he is unable to join the rest of his family.
“She needs to come back there,” he says. “I don’t want to leave them in this pandemic.”