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Explained | Proposed changes to H-1B visa programme

The US on October 21 announced a list of proposed changes to the H-1B visa programme. The Biden administration said that these proposed changes in the foreign workers programme were aimed at improving efficiency by streamlining eligibility, providing more flexibility to F-1 students, entrepreneurs and those working for non-profit bodies and ensuring better conditions for other non-immigrant workers.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in ‘speciality occupations’ that require theoretical or technical expertise.

It is typically issued for three to six years to employers to hire a foreign worker. But H-1B holders who have begun the Green Card process can often renew their work visas indefinitely.

US tech companies rely heavily on this programme to hire thousands of non-American employees, a majority of whom are Indians and Chinese.

This proposal is currently public for stakeholders to give their comments and feedback before December 22, 2023.

US-based author Soundarya Balasubramani, writing for NDTV, listed some of the major changes in the proposed system.

Automatic “cap-gap” extension

In a big change for foreign students in the US, the new rule bats for extension of the “cap-gap” provision for F-1 Optional Practical Training to April 1 of the following year or until they receive their H-1B visa, whichever comes first. Currently, this date could be only pushed to October 1.

Multiple entries barred

Under the current process, the more registrations that are submitted on behalf of an individual, the higher the chances of that person being selected in a lottery. Under the new proposal, each individual who has a registration submitted on their behalf would be entered into the selection process once, regardless of the number of registrations submitted on their behalf, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

Increased site visits

To ensure that chances of fraud are reduced, USCIS will not just conduct more site visits, but they will also be stricter than before.

Acknowledgement of remote work

Keeping in mind the changing nature of jobs since the pandemic, the Biden administration has proposed to acknowledge job offers that include telework, remote work, or other off-site work within the United States.

‘Employer-employee’ relationship not needed anymore

The new rule proposes to do away with the requirement of “employer-employee” relationship for founders looking to secure H-1B visas through their own companies. This will make it easier for entrepreneurs to utilise the H-1B program to build and grow their businesses even if they hold half of the company’s ownership.

Change in definition of ‘specialty occupation’

Under the new rules, a stricter definition would be applied to ‘specialty occupations’. The new proposal says that there must be a direct relationship between the required degree field and the position’s duties.

This might lead to an increased number of Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and even denials.

(With PTI inputs)

(Published 25 October 2023, 03:04 IST)

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