Amid an increasingly polarized debate over the future of U.S. immigration policy, Congressional researchers admit that current rules leave Indian tech professionals working in America at risk of exploitation by their employers.
The wait time for legal permanent residence status (LPR), more commonly known as a green card, is about 10 years for Indians who are applying under professional or skilled worker categories. In a study released this month, the bipartisan Congressional Research Service called this “a potentially exploitative situation.”
That’s because tech workers from India must rely on their employer’s willingness to sponsor them for a temporary visa, such as the H-1B, while they wait for their green card applications to be processed. H-1B workers have little leverage or negotiating power as their visas are not transferable. To move from one company to another would require the worker to seek a new sponsor and start the application process all over again.
The H-1B also does not offer a direct path to a green card. It allows foreign workers in specialty occupations, such as software development, to work in the U.S. for up to six years.
The decade-long wait for a green card is due to rules that place per-country ceilings on the number of green cards awarded in any given year. Regardless of size, no country can account for more than 7% of the total green cards awarded annually in certain categories. The enormous demand for green cards generated by India’s tech diaspora greatly exceeds supply.
Critics of the system argue that per-country limits on green cards should be replaced with one in which employment-based applications are decided mainly on merit. Others, however, say the per-country limits are needed to ensure a diverse stream of skilled immigrants.
American workers also face pressure
The situation also potentially harms American workers. Some employers may favor H-1B job candidates over U.S.-born applicants, knowing it would be difficult for the former to jump to a competitor or ask for a raise.
Domestic and international companies operating within the U.S. say a shortage of American-born tech workers makes them reliant on H-1B workers to fill the gap. Indian outsourcers Infosys, TCS and Tech Mahindra were among the top five users of H-1Bs in 2017, records show. Wipro ranked 10th. Those companies typically bring in workers from India to staff their U.S. development labs or to work for their U.S.-based clients.
The H-1B is also popular with U.S. tech giants looking to supplement their workforce. IBM and Google were among the top 10 H-1B employers last year.
U.S. President Donald Trump has slammed U.S. companies for using H-1B workers, even though his modeling agency, Trump Model Management, relied heavily on the H-1B to hire foreign-born models. The industry group Compete America recently complained that the Trump administration is now illegally delaying or denying new H-1B applications for tech workers.
Critics of the current system argue that per-country limits on green cards should be replaced with a system in which employment-based applications are decided mainly on merit. Others, however, say the per-country limits are needed to ensure a diverse stream of skilled immigrants.