As Congress and the Trump administration consider making changes to a federal program that provides visas to high-skilled foreign workers, the head of India’s top IT trade association is hoping to preserve the program that employs thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States each year.
R Chandrashekhar, president of National Association of Software & Service Companies, is in Washington to meet with lawmakers and Trump administration officials who are weighing plans to weaken the H-1B program, which awards 85,000 temporary work visas to foreigners each year. Indians received 70 percent of those visas in 2014, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“From the point of view of the bilateral relationship, this is one area which needs to be nurtured,” Chandrashekhar, who was secretary of the Indian Department of Telecommunications from 2010 to 2013, said in an interview Friday. “And I think President Trump has, both on the campaign trail and after the inauguration, emphasized the value he sees in this bilateral relationship.”
Chandrashekhar attended an informal reception Friday evening with more than 25 U.S. governors, including Govs. Brian Sandoval (R-Nev.) and Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.), at the Indian ambassador’s residence, according to a NASSCOM spokesman. The spokesman declined to say which lawmakers and Trump administration officials Chandrashekhar is scheduled to meet with between now and Thursday, but said it would be most of the “key players” in the H-1B debate.
While the U.S. tech industry says it relies on H-1B visas to employ talent that’s in short supply in the U.S., Indian firms are also keen to preserve and expand a program that provides their country with access to advanced technologies and promotes bilateral ties between India and the United States.
Chandrashekhar said the perception among some U.S. policymakers that the visas are used by U.S. and Indian firms to bring cheap labor to the United States is incomplete. He said that while about 20,000 Indian citizens annually receive H-1Bs to work at stateside Indian IT firms, around 40,000 receive visas to work for American IT companies and in other U.S. tech industries, where they create American jobs.
Chandrashekhar said he aims to disabuse policymakers and officials at the White House — which is expected to issue an executive order placing additional restrictions on the program — of the notion that H-1B visas are used to outsource American tech jobs. He said he will impress upon them the importance of the program both as an “economic cornerstone” and a source of diplomatic cooperation between the two countries.
“Cybersecurity is a direct and obvious extension of the IT space, and one where both countries can and will need to work together,” Chandrashekhar said. “It’s not just a question of where you get skilled workers from, but also are they your friends?”
Lawmakers have introduced three bills — two in the House and one in the Senate — that would either replace the current lottery system with an annual visa auction or by raise the salary threshold at which businesses must give proof that they tried to hire an American worker. None of the measures have been marked up at the committee level.
Chandrashekhar said he plans to tell lawmakers about the potential flaws in those plans, including the administrative difficulties inherent in running a wide-scale auction and the dangers of a one-size-fits-all salary approach given the variable living costs across the United States.