US freeze on H-1B visas to hit IT firms coping with travel curbs amid Covid-19 crisis

The US decision to freeze work visas, including the H-1B visa for highly skilled workers, till the year end will add to the troubles of Indian software services companies that are already struggling to cope with travel curbs amid the pandemic.

The decision, fiercely criticised by US tech leaders such as Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai, is the latest in a series of measures by President Donald Trump to crack down on legal immigration to combat staggeringly high unemployment levels in the country before the presidential elections in November.

The flare-up of the work visa issue during the US election year should be seen as a temporary but recurring theme, analysts said.

“President Trump has made it clear that he sees restricting immigration as a key campaign issue, so it is likely that as the election draws closer, we will see further action on these issues,” said Rebecca Bernhard, partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney.

The Trump administration believes the move will open up employment opportunities for Americans in an economy that has reported record job losses. Analysts dismissed the claim. This is just election-year rhetoric, said Siddharth Pai, a venture capitalist.

“The US will continue to have programmes to bring in skilled workers from India and other countries. Even if the ban is imposed, it is likely to be for the short term,” he said.

Industry body Nasscom said that thousands of US firms, universities, medical facilities, research institutions, directly and through their associations have asked Trump not to take such action because of the harm it would do as the country reopens and recovers.

Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd have been increasing hiring American citizens to cut dependence on the H-1B visa amid changing regulations. Infosys, Wipro and TCS declined to comment on the visa restrictions. C.P. Gurnani, managing director and CEO, Tech Mahindra, said the Indian IT industry has prepared itself for immigration challenges in the past as well and the impact will be minimal in the short term.

Nandita Mathur and Abhijit Ahaskar contributed to this story.

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