Representational image | Photo: PTI
Washington: A presidential commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has unanimously approved a recommendation for the provision of stamping of H-1B visas inside the US, a move if accepted by President Joe Biden will come as a big relief to thousands of foreign professionals, particularly from India.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
As per the current mandatory practice, one needs to apply for a visa stamp at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad before one's H-1B status can be activated.
The move came from the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders during its meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
Notably, a large number of them either new or waiting for the renewal of H-1B visas are facing uncertainty due to long visa application appointments in countries like India where the current wait period is more than a year. A recommendation was moved by Indian American Ajay Jain Bhutoria, a member of the commission.
“As part of our immigration process, H-1B visa holders are given the opportunity to work in the United States live here and contribute to the growth of our economy, innovation and economic development,” Bhutoria told members of the commission during the meeting, which was telecast live by the White House.
H-1B visa holders, he told members of the commission, face problems and many a time even forced family separation during the renewal or when they travel overseas.
“There are situations where a lot of people, whose parents have been in ICU or in critical condition or their death of a parent, but they could not travel back to the home country with the fear that if there is often delay in the visa appointments in the home countries,” he said.
“In India right now the waiting period is 844 days to get a visa appointment which is like two years or more. There's a similar situation in Pakistan, Bangladesh and many other countries. China is much better right now. So, they cannot get an appointment and they cannot get stamping done and they get stuck,” said Bhaturia.
Based out of Silicon Valley, Bhaturia is a successful entrepreneur and has been a supporter of President Biden from day one of his campaign.
“What happens then, they potentially lose the job. Wife and kids are here separated and with no means to support themselves or many times spouses don't drive. A lot of these kinds of situations create a disruption in their life while they were given the full opportunity to work here legally,” he argued.
This recommendation basically is saying that USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Commission) should update its policy, as it was done previously many years back to provide guidelines to permit the extension of and stamping of visas in the US by USCIS, he said.
“It was done previously. It was stopped,” he added.
“This recommendation is to request USCIS to allow the stamping in the US. Alternatively, USCIS should also consider providing advanced travel documents to these visa holders when they will travel out of the country with expired visa stamping so that they can re-enter the US without having to get re-stamping in their home countries,” Bhutoria said.
Several members of the commission described this as an issue of family separation and mental health.
Chief Commissioner Sonal Shah, an Indian American, said this is an issue of family separation and dignity of H-1B visa holders.
“That's an easy way to put fear into families,” she said.
“One of the comments I would make here is that I think this is overall in the commission's thinking about dignity for people, and how do we make it easier and a dignified process and a dignified approach. It's one thing to have rules, it's another to not hold the dignity of families and individuals,” Shah said.