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Wednesday, 26 August 2020 | PNS

The US has welcomed millions of immigrants from various countries over the years to study, work, build and expand business. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the US Government to revisit immigration policies to maintain an economic balance in the country. As per the amended regulation, the US suspended issuance of new H1B visas until the end of 2020 in a duly signed executive order on June 22, 2020. The ban restricts foreign nationals from accessing the available temporary employment-based visas such as H1B, H4, L Visas, H-2B. The order also extended the green card ban enacted in April until December 31, 2020.

However, on August 12, 2020, the administration relaxed some rules for H1B visa allowing the applicants currently outside the US to be considered for the visa if they are seeking to resume ongoing employment in the same position with the same employer and visa classification. Furthermore, the US Department of State has issued a set of five guidelines, and the applicant must satisfy at least two of them to be considered for a visa. The relaxation of rules by the US Government also allows healthcare workers and researchers involved in the work related to COVID-19.

The radical changes made to the H-1B work visa norms, along with other visas will substantially affect the lives of thousands of immigrants eagerly waiting for a chance to live their American dream. The US executed the ban with immediate effect thus suspending the issuance of all new H-1B, H-2B, J, and L visa categories. Along with this, people who didn't have a valid non-immigrant visa as of June 23 and were not present in the US, will not be able to enter the US until December 31. However, H-1B, H-2B, J and L visa holders, and their spouse or children already present in the US have not been impacted by the new work visa ban.

This decision has impacted the employment structure and most likely the revenue margins for Indian IT companies that send highly skilled employees at low costs for clients in the US.

Although over the years these IT companies have increased the number of American employees, the dependency on H1-B visa holders is prominent. The overall impact on the aspiring immigrants will be harsher than expected since the visas will only be issued after December 2020. The major impact is on professionals who were channeling their immigration via sponsored routes, renewals and new employers. As a long-term plan, a wise decision would be to invest in a green card friendly route so that the navigation into US becomes faster and easier, not only for the applicant but also their dependents.

While the ban may have created a slight hurdle for foreign nationals there are multiple alternatives to move to the US. Exploring other visa routes like investing in the EB-5 Visa programme can protect immigrants with a long-term dream to settle in the US by securing a safe and quick route to permanent US residency. Since the EB-5 visa programme is designed to drive foreign investment into the US and create jobs for US citizens, by default it is in line with the Government’s regulations, so far it has been immune to changing political, social or economic dynamic within the country.

The sudden ban has also been opposed by a large section of the society by terming it as a crippler of global operations of businesses that require overseas workers to flourish. International students would also have to reassess their strategy for studying in the US and then securing jobs when dependent on H1-B visas. At present, it is in best interest of all applicants to evaluate the long-term benefits of their chosen route to the US and make a wise decision.

The writer is Abhinav Lohia, Director South Asia and the Middle East, CanAm Investor Services

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