H-1B get a reprieve: They will not be forced to leave, USCIS says

The Trump administration, after all, is not considering any proposal that would force H-1B visa-holders to leave the country. As per reports, the government appears to be distancing itself from claims it has been considering ending the practice of extending H-1B visas during the green card application process. This provides for H-1B extensions beyond the six-year cap that is prevailing now.

If the earlier proposed change—which was first announced as part of Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” plan on the 2016 election campaign trail—were to be in practice, it could have potentially seen hundreds of thousands of predominantly Indian H-1B visa holders forced to leave the U.S.

The latest announcement by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) came days after reports emerged that the Trump administration was considering tightening H-1B visa rules that could lead to deportation of some 750,000 Indians. The reports had also said the US was planning ending extensions for H-1B holders.

The Trump administration “is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa-holders to leave the US by changing interpretation of Section 104 C of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21) statute that states that the USCIS may grant the extensions beyond the 6-year limit,” Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations at the USCIS said.

“Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa-holders having to leave the US because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead,”  he added. “We are not at liberty to discuss any part of the pre-decisional processes; however, all proposed rules publish in the federal register, and USCIS posts all policy memoranda on our website,” he said.

“What we can say, however, is that USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions.”

“Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead,” he added.

The reports on possible discontinuation of extensions had prompted industry bodies, immigrant associations, and even U.S. lawmakers to protest against it even as the administration remained silent until Monday. Indian officials had brought the panic among the Indian Americans to the attention of the White House last week, suggesting a clarification to quell it.

Immigration Voice, an advocacy group campaigning on behalf of H-1B workers, said it was “ecstatic” over the news that USCIS is not planning on changing its H-1B extension program.

Data published by USCIS shows that around a quarter of all H-1B petitions filed in 2017 did not receive approval. Of the 404,087 applications received, 298,445 (73 percent) were approved, compared with 348,162 (87.2 percent) of 399,349 received in 2016.

The data also showed that H-1B petitions received by the agency between financial years 2007 to 2017 were predominantly filed on behalf of beneficiaries born in India, with more than 2.2 million petitions for Indian-born applicants received.

More than 301,400 applications were filed for beneficiaries born in China. Applicants born in Canada, the Philippines and South Korea were also high on the list, though with much lower numbers, below 90,000. Indians account for the maximum number of H-1B visas-holders.

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