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What is happening with H1B – should I apply for MS?

Ever since Trump was elected, there have been articles that blamed his policies on H1B for Indians being forced to exit US. Let us focus on facts and discuss how it impacts your MS plans.

Relevant Anti H1B Bills proposed so far-

  1. Increase in minimum wage requirement to qualify for H1B
    1. A bill called Protect and Grow American Jobs Act was introduced to amend the original Act that created the H-1B program. It asks to raise the minimum salary requirement for H-1B workers to $100,000 a year, up from $60,000, and remove the Master’s degree exemption that allowed the replacing of American workers with foreign workers with master’s degrees. The House Judiciary Committee approved it in November 2017 but it is far from becoming a law at this point. Tech lobby is so strong, I’ll be surprised if this passes ever.
  2. Revoking work permits of H1B spouses
    1. A rule is proposed to revoke work permits of H1B spouses – popularly called H4 EAD. It is currently in “final clearance and review” process.

Bills approved and made into law so far-


Other impacts of Trump’s anti-immigration stance:

  1. Employers were wary of what rule might be proposed and hence, were more cautious in rolling out H1B applications for new employees. I have heard Amex managers etc thinking twice before hiring internationals.
  2. In October 2017, the USCIS made it so that H1B extension applications are subjected to the same level of scrutiny as on fresh visa applications. Earlier, if anyone made a mistake in the application, they could get an RFE (request for evidence). However, now USCIS can outright right reject with no obligation to send RFE.
    The ground reality is that some people are seeing a tougher time getting their H1B renewed especially if their real day to day work doesn’t justify the reasons for which the H1B was filed in the first place. If they are doing routine mundane tasks and not requiring higher skills, they are likely to be questioned and may even see revoking of H1Bs.

Who will Trump’s bias really impact? – outsourcing firms who are sending people on client side for no real reason. This was also reflected in the fact that the number of approved H1B petitions filed by Indian IT firms (Cognizant, Infosys) declined in 2017 whereas those by leading tech companies such as Apple, Amazon increased (as reported by NFAP).

Outsourcing IT firms have realized that they cannot bulk file for H1Bs now and there will be tighter scrutiny on applications. As a result, they are also more cautious and not filing too many H1B petitions now.

Quoting verbatim from the above NFAP report-

Emerging technologies, such as driverless vehicles, may also be increasing the demand for people with high levels of technical skill, including foreign-born researchers. Tesla (207 approved new H-1B petitions in FY 2017), Uber (158) and General Motors (179) all employ individuals in H-1B status.

It indicates a shift in preferring to grant H1Bs to direct employers rather requiring more sophisticated knowledge of technology than outsourcing IT firms.

Frankly, these are the only real things happening. I have seen articles claiming that people are leaving USA because of Trump’s policies and they are cherry picking evidence. The height of irresponsible journalism is when they cite reasons such as – H1B is too restrictive, you cannot work for anyone else, I did not get H1B 2 years after graduation. I wrote a big counter article on that which went viral and you must read it.

Let’s be objective. All this was happening before Trump as well. H1B was always restrictive (you could not start your own company on H1B), it was always harder for people graduating with questionable degrees from questionable schools, who did not learn any real skills.

At Scholar Strategy, I have heard from our students who got internships and fulltime employment at Tesla, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft, Apple etc this very year. So, if you want to extrapolate Trump’s frenzy to a doomsday scenario for people who know their shit, all I have for you is ‘I don’t buy that.’

You may say many deserving people on H1B from outsourcing firms are now at risk. I say – yes, they are. But believe me, if you have good skills and are a good developer, Project Manager, Product Manager, software architect – you will never have dearth of opportunities – yes, you may have to work for it.

I advised a 34 year old woman, who was fed up of the IT firms politics and stagnation in career in India, get into MIT SDM program and she interned at Salesforce as a product manager this year. If she can do it, so can you.

But if you are trying to defend skill-less people sitting as managers in middle management layer in so many IT companies – you cannot. They were and are always at risk of being shoved out (even in India) – its nothing to do with H1B. After all, H1B is not a charity, it is a work visa with a specific purpose for its country.

I am not defending Trump by any means, but I am saying that there frankly has not been a damage to prospects of working in USA for good people. In fact, I would argue that going forward, it bodes well for people with advanced degrees from good institutes because they are the ones that will possess the requisite skills.

Updated thoughts after H1B report came out in Feb 2019-

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