Indian-American Republican presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy has called H-1B visa programme as a form of “indentured servitude” and vowed to “gut” the lottery-based system and replace it with meritocratic admission if he wins the race to the White House in 2024.
The H-1B visa programme is designed to allow skilled foreign workers to come to the United States and work for American companies. It is the most sought-after visa category among Indian IT professionals as it allows US-based companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occasions requiring theoretical or technical know-how.
The H-1B visa, though high in demand, requires long waiting time extending to several years and the selection process, involving the lottery system, has been much criticised in the past.
What Has Vivek Ramaswamy said?
Ramaswamy acknowledged his own experience with immigration during his opening remarks at the first Republican debate in Milwaukee and said the H-1B system is “bad for everyone involved.” He himself has used the H-1B visa programme 29 times.
“My parents came to this country with no money 40 years ago. I have gone on to found multi-billion-dollar companies,” Ramaswamy said. Ramaswamy has referred to the H-1B visa programme as the lottery system that needs to be replaced by actual meritocratic admission.
“The lottery system needs to be replaced by actual meritocratic admission. It’s a form of indentured servitude that only accrues to the benefit of the company that sponsored an H-1B immigrant. I’ll gut it,” Ramaswamy said in a statement, adding that the US needs to eliminate chain-based migration.
“The people who come as family members are not the meritocratic immigrants who make skills-based contributions to this country,” he added.
Ramaswamy’s stance on H-1B visas is reminiscent of the 2016 Trump campaign, when Donald Trump, who has also hired a number of foreign workers under H-1B visas for his businesses, took a hardline stance on these foreign workers before later softening his rhetoric.
What is H-1B visa programme?
H-1B visas are highly sought after, and the demand for these workers continues to increase.
Every year, the US gives 65,000 H-1B visas which are open to all and 20,000 to those with advanced US degrees. Currently, nearly three-fourths of H-1B visas go to Indian professionals.
However, there is a huge demand and limited seats for the visa programme. For 85,000 available H-1B visa slots, the US businesses submitted 780,884 applications for fiscal year 2021, jumping by more than 60 percent.
In July, Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, introduced a bill proposing to double the annual intake of highly skilled foreign workers on H-1B work visas coveted by Indian professionals.
The bill also seeks to double the number of H-1B visas available annually from 65,000 to 130,000 to allow American employers, including in critical technology sectors, to draw the best talent from around the world.
Problems with the H-1B visas
The H-1B visa are highly sought-after category used by Indian professionals in the US as many use them as a precursor for permanent residency. However, the waiting periods for the employment-based green card for Indians can stretch into decades.
The waiting period for the H-1B visa programme went to two years following the Covid-19 pandemic due to the backlog. However, in a recent statement, US Consulate General Mumbai said the applicants can now schedule their appointments within the standard time frame.
The US embassy in India has already processed over 9 lakh non-immigrant visa currently and is expected to pass the one million mark soon.
Apart from the cap on H-1B visas, the applicants and holders face several other issues in the US. The H-1B holders in the US don’t have several rights, for instance, they cannot vote in US elections and the visas last only for three years after which it requires an extension (after which the entire visa must be renewed).
Though, there are other visa categories for Indian immigrants like B1/B2 visas, that allow them to find a new job, but it is not permissible to engage in any kind of employment under the visa categories.
When someone on B1/B2 visa gets a job in the US, they will need to get a work permit and therefore have to change their status to an employment-authorized status.