H-1B visa extensions to continue: U.S.
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Washington: The United States has no plans under consideration to discontinue the extension of H-1B visas beyond six years, when beneficiaries wait for permanent residency, or green card, authorities clarified on Monday. A flurry of speculative reporting on the issue over the last 10 days that said lakhs of people will be forced to self-deport from the U.S. as a result of this move had caused panic among Indian Americans who comprise a significant portion of green card applicants. Actual numbers are not available.
A spokesperson of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security that administers the non-immigrant, temporary worker visa programme said in a statement: “….USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6 year limit.” AC-21 or the American Competitiveness in the Twenty First Century Act is the law passed by the U.S Congress in 2000, which also governs the extension of H-1B visas.
“Even if it were [considering changes to section 104-c], such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC - 21 instead,” Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS, told The Hindu.
The section on three-year extensions uses the word ‘may’ which could allow some discretion by the executive but there is a separate section in the same Act that allows one-year extensions in which the executive has no discretion. It uses the expression that the administration ‘shall’ grant such extensions. The Hindu had clarified this factual situation last week. So, even if the USCIS were to reinterpret the meaning of the word ‘may,’ the question of self-deportation didn’t arise.
The agency said as much on Monday, but also added that there has not been a move at all to reinterpret the clause related to three-year extensions. “…any suggestion that USCIS changed its position because of pressure is absolutely false,” Mr. Withington said adding that no changes were under consideration, connected to it.
The reports on possible discontinuation of extensions had prompted industry bodies, immigrant associations, and even U.S. lawmakers to protest against it even as the administration remained silent until Monday. Indian officials had brought the panic among the Indian Americans to the attention of the White House last week, suggesting a clarification to quell it.
The USCIS is reviewing the H-1B visa programme, and will come up with changes later this year. “The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment based visa programmes,” Mr. Withington said. But the Trump administration can change through executive action only those aspects of the H-1B programme that were effected through executive actions. The work permit for spouses of H-1B visa holders and the lottery system that selects beneficiaries of the programme every year are governed by executive decisions. The administration could suggest changes for Congress to consider and legislate, as part of its review.