Obama, Modi Discuss H1B Visas During President’s Trip to India

In a widely publicized trip to the United States last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to loosen visa restrictions for those entering India. Now, the nation of India is waiting to see if President Barack Obama will extend the same courtesy, following his January 2015 visit to discuss U.S.-India relations.

While much of the national attention in the United States regarding immigration focuses on policies related to foreign nationals living in the United States illegally, Indian tech workers and the booming Indian tech industry hope to benefit from future immigration reforms. It is no secret that scores of highly skilled and educated engineers, software designers, and computer programmers from India are able to secure employment in the United States each year, thanks to the H1B program. Both nations reap the benefits, as India increases its global economic presence, while the U.S. tech industry thrives from the addition of top-notch talent. But the current quota for new H1B workers is set at 65,000 per year; a cap usually reached the moment H1B cap season begins. Many Indian tech workers, as well as the U.S. companies that rely on them, are imploring Obama to push for legislation that would increase the H1B visa cap and allow more skilled workers into the country. [See H1B Visas: Obama’s Visit Brings Hope For India’s Skilled Workers, by Dhanya Ann Thoppil, The Wall Street Journal, Jan.25.2015; and Obama Assures Modi on Concerns Over H1B Visa Issue, The Times of India, Jan.26.2015.]

Further complicating the issue is the relatively high rate of rejection for H1B visa applications from Indian workers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the rejection rate can be as high as 40 percent for Indian nationals applying for certain types of visas, and many in the Indian tech industry feel that their applicants are scrutinized more closely than those from other nations. And while Obama is taking steps to relax certain immigration rules for skilled tech workers living and working in the United States, such as allowing qualifying spouses of H1B workers to gain employment authorization, some industry leaders say that he can, and must, do more to ensure a level playing field. “We hope [the U.S.] will ensure that no provisions or law is passed which discriminates or onerously puts preventative measures on some of the Indian companies,” said Gagan Sabharwal, a spokesperson for the National Association of Software and Service companies, one of India’s major software industry lobbyists, in advance of Obama’s visit.

The United States and India are two of the world’s top global economic powerhouses, and their fates are undeniably linked by H1B workers. The U.S. relies on the skills and talents of workers from India to provide its tech industry with sufficient qualified personnel, while India and its growing economy profit from that demand and maintain a presence on the global stage. But this is a delicate balance. Both nations must have confidence in the H1B program to ensure that this mutually beneficial relationship can continue; a disruption could have potentially disastrous consequences for both economies. We can only hope that this recent visit is the start of true, positive reform to the program.


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