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What is a H-1B visa and how does the ban impact Indians

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a proclamation to suspend issuing of H-1B visas, which is popular among Indian IT professionals, along with other foreign work visas for the rest of the year.

Donald Trump termed the step as essential and said it would help millions of Americans who have lost jobs due to the current economic crisis. Trump said that the suspension would be in place until the end of this year.

This would mean that foreign nationals, outside the United States, who were scheduled to begin work on a H-1B visa or even L-1 visas, but do not as of now hold a valid visa, as well as dependents who were to accompany them, will have to wait at least until the ban or suspension period expires.

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This would be a major set back for the Indians as a majority of the H-1B visas were allotted to Indians. However those having valid visas, be it the primary visa holder or dependents such as the spouse on H-1 visas and are held up in India can fly back to the US. The ban comes into effect on June 24 as per the proclamation and will remain in force until the end of this year, if not extended.

What is a H-1B visa:

The H-1B is a visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in speciality occupations. A speciality occupation requires the application of a specialised knowledge and a bachelor's degree or equivalent of work experience. The duration of a stay is three years and can be extended up to six years. Once this period is over, the visa holder will need to re-apply.

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The law says that employers must generally withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from the wages paid to employees in H1B visa status. A person in the H-1B visa status must continue to be employed by the employer in order to stay in the H-1B status. In case the employment ends for any reason, the employee must be leave the United States, unless the person applies for and is granted change in status or finds another employer with the H-1B status. In 2017, the US allowed a grace period of up to 60 days to stay in the country after the person's end of employment.

The impact on Indians:

The proclamation issued will immediately affect the processing of all new H-1B, H-2B, J and L visa categories. This would mean that those who do not have a valid non-immigrant visa as of June 23 and those who are outside the US, will not be allowed to enter the country until December 31 2020.

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However, those workers in essential services in the food sector have been given a reprieve and their entry shall be decided by the consular officer of the immigration services.

The new order however will not impact H-1B, H2B, J and L visa holders and their spouses or children who are already in the US.

Impact on IT companies:

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had received about 2.5 lakh H-1B visa applications as of April 1 2020. Of this 67 per cent or 1.84 lakh were from India.

Moreover, the executive order that was signed by Trump also says that the the H-1B visas will no longer be decided by a lottery system. The new rules would in fact be in favour of highly-skilled workers and those who are paid the highest wages by the respective companies.

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