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US orders freeze on H1-B, H-4 visas till year end - Important things you should know

US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday suspended the H-1B visas till the end of the year. His administration has announced a “merit-based” reform plan that may hurt Indian professionals and companies that place technology workers in the US.

Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unemployment crisis in the US with many availing unemployment benefits. The move has been enforced to “ensure we continue putting American workers first during our ongoing coronavirus recovery,” the White House said. It is expected to make 5,25,000 jobs available to US workers.

Indians account for nearly 74 per cent of the work visas. Companies that act as subcontractors sponsoring workers on H-1B visas and deputing them once they are in the US to work elsewhere are likely to take a hit by the move.

US officials have hinted at another reform that would renew the way H1-B visas are allotted from the current lottery system to favour those who are offered the most wages. The new minimum will be the 50th percentile of the national income, currently USD 63,000 according to US Census Bureau. Applicants with the top 85,000 wage offers would get the H-1B visas.

Here are some important things to know:
  1. The new freeze would encompass H-1B, H-4 (for spouses of H-1B workers), L-1 (employees transferred by their companies to work in the US) and J-1 (nannies or au pairs employed by the elite, scholars and researchers) visas.
  2. Those already in the US on the H-1B and other work visa categories will remain unaffected by the freeze ordered by President Trump.
  3. Workers in healthcare, national security, farmworkers and nannies will be exempt. Agricultural labour in the H-2B category is also exempt. Scholars and researchers and professors in health or specialised fields are exempted too.
  4. Green card restrictions will continue till the year-end.

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