Indians in Scranton, Pennsylvania, have much to say about the changes to H1-B visa policies, particularly about how extensions and petitions are being threatened by the prospect of employers hiring domestic talent.
In 2016, the Trump administration proposed restricting the issuance of these specialty occupation visas in favor of hiring American workers. The “Buy American and Hire American” executive order was signed by President Donald Trump on April 18,, 2017. Priority was given to foreign nationals who had attended U.S. institutions over those who obtained degrees at international universities. As a result, thousands of immigrants, the majority of whom are Indian, are at risk of losing their H1-B status and could face deportation.
According to an annual report by the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, the number of visa petitions filed by companies that sponsor Indian employees dropped by 17.6 percent, from 300,907 filings in 2016, to 247,927 in 2017. Of the overall number of filings across the country, 68.7 percent accounted for jobs within the Information & Technology industry.
Indian immigrants along with other Asians, make up 4.3 percent of the Scranton population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Neighborhoods such as Clarks Summit accommodate large clusters of the Indian community, and the Applewood Acres apartment complex houses between 70-80 Indian immigrant families.
Companies with offices in Pennsylvania, such as Tech Mahindra in King of Prussia, reported fewer numbers of H1-B issuances in 2018, which dropped from 77 in 2017 to just 49 this year. Branch offices for other tech companies in Scranton like Cognizant Tech Solutions, followed a similar trend, dropping from 267 last year to 100 this year.
Sabitha Patel, 42, a professor of biochemistry at King’s College in Wilkes Barre, is a green card holder. She said that she knew of four individuals who had been affected by the new policy and, as a result, were required to leave the U.S. within seven days of their visas being revoked upon request for extensions.
“One week isn’t enough to start a new life, one that you’re forced to start, through no fault of your own,” said Patel. “Imagine having to sell your home, your car, and having to say goodbye to your friends all at once. This is something that shouldn’t be happening to such talented members of our community.”
Immigrants aren’t the only ones affected by the visa restrictions. Several company owners said this issue has taken its toll on their recruiting processes and finding talent over the last two years.
Mani Chandana Velaga, 37, an Indian immigrant and the cofounder of ADIL Analytics, an IT company based in Jessup, Lackawanna County, said that they have implemented training programs and internships that run periodically throughout the year in an effort to try to bring local candidates up to their standards. “We’ve had to hire mostly Americans this past year instead of Indians because we cannot afford to sponsor foreign-born employees,” said Velaga. “This is challenging, as we have to find the right candidates who have all the required qualifications, something which is abundant [in candidates] in India.”
According to Amit Phadke, 38, a senior salesforce architect at IT company Cognizant Technology Solutions, many Indian workers are being encouraged to find ways to circumvent the visa process by finding other alternatives. One option is the L1-A visa, a document issued to workers in foreign-based companies that have subsidiaries in the U.S.
Phadke did just that in 2011, when he emigrated from Pune, India. At the time, his decision was out of obligation to his job since he was being transferred from a global branch in India. He was oblivious to the stability this would eventually give him and his family. “Having a L1-A means I can sleep peacefully at night, knowing I have a lesser, if not minute, chance of being fired,” he said. The only disadvantage, he said, is that he cannot apply to other jobs since the terms of his work visa are more long-term and do not allow for flexibility.
Additionally, Indian immigrants are also being told that moving to Canada may be the best bet for them. A tweet, sent out by Pavan Dhillon, a Canadian immigration lawyer based in the U.S., Dhillon quoted SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), a non-profit organization that advocates for the South Asian community, which had said that cutting off these workers would eventually cripple America’s productivity.
In January 2019, the Trump administration said it plans to “revise” the definition of employment and specialty occupations under H1-B visas. It remains to be seen to how the revisions will further impact the lives of Indian immigrants in the United States.
Email the Author, Lavanya Nair at firstname.lastname@example.org.