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US likely to announce easing of H-1B visa rules for Indians amid PM Modi’s visit

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The Biden administration is likely to announce an easing of H-1B norms to make it easier for Indians to live and work in America amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing state visit to the US, according to a Reuters report.

“The State Department could announce as soon as Thursday that a small number of Indians and other foreign workers on H-1B visas will be able to renew those visas in the U.S., without having to travel abroad as part of a pilot program that could be expanded in coming years,” Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Indian skilled workers such as IT engineers and doctors comprise as much as 73% of U.S. H-1B visa holders which number at around 442,000.

The move is part of the move to strengthen relations between the world’s two largest democracies and creating an alternative supply chain outside China.

Each year, the U.S. government makes 65,000 H-1B visas available to companies seeking skilled foreign workers, along with an additional 20,000 visas for workers with advanced degrees. The visas last for three years and can be renewed for another three years.

The pilot program would also include some workers with L-1 visas, which are available to people transferring within a company to a position in the U.S., one of the sources said.

A separate initiative to clear a backlog of visa applications at U.S. embassies in India is also reported to have gathered pace and the issue is expected to be taken up for further discussions  during PM Modi’s current visit.

Some H-1B visa holders in the U.S. have been among the thousands of tech workers laid off this year, putting them in immense hardship as they have to find new employers within a 60-day “grace period” or return to their home country.

This tight timeline presents significant challenges, such as finding a new job in a challenging job market and completing the paperwork necessary for transferring H1-B status. Delays in processing at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can exacerbate these challenges, potentially leading to a loss of skilled labor for the United States.

The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies(FIIDS), which has been working for laid-off H-1B visa holders, had recently written to USCIS about the impacts of recent technology sector layoffs and sought an increase to the up to 60-day grace period, according to the news agency

The Biden administration has been working to improve visa access for Indians, but has been hampered by the lack of political will in Congress to  reform U.S. immigration policy.

U.S. visa services are still attempting to clear a backlog after Washington halted almost all visa processing worldwide in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The visa backlog has led to some families being separated for extended periods of time.