Indian-American Republican presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy has called the H-1B visa programme a form of “indentured servitude” and vowed to replace the system with meritocratic admission if he wins the race to the White House in 2024.
The H-1B visa programme is designed to allow skilled foreign workers to come to the United States and work for American companies. It is the most sought-after visa category among Indian IT professionals as it allows US-based companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occasions requiring theoretical or technical know-how.
The H-1B visa requires long waiting time extending to several years and the selection process, involving the lottery system, has been much criticised.
Ramaswamy acknowledged his own experience with immigration during his opening remarks at the first Republican debate in Milwaukee and said the H-1B system is “bad for everyone involved.” He himself has used the H-1B visa programme 29 times.
“My parents came to this country with no money 40 years ago. I have gone on to found multi-billion-dollar companies,” Ramaswamy said.
“The lottery system needs to be replaced by actual meritocratic admission. It’s a form of indentured servitude that only accrues to the benefit of the company that sponsored an H-1B immigrant. I’ll gut it,” Ramaswamy said in a statement, adding that the US needs to eliminate chain-based migration.
“The people who come as family members are not the meritocratic immigrants who make skills-based contributions to this country,” he added.
Every year, the US gives 65,000 H-1B visas which are open to all and 20,000 to those with advanced US degrees. Currently, nearly three-fourths of H-1B visas go to Indian professionals.
However, for 85,000 available H-1B visa slots, the US businesses submitted 780,884 applications for fiscal year 2021.
In July, Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, introduced a bill proposing to double the annual intake of highly skilled foreign workers on H-1B work visas coveted by Indian professionals.
The bill also seeks to double the number of H-1B visas available annually from 65,000 to 130,000 to allow American employers, including in critical technology sectors, to draw the best talent from around the world.
Many use the H-1B visa as a precursor for permanent residency. However, the waiting periods for the employment-based green card for Indians can stretch into decades.
The US embassy in India has already processed over 9 lakh non-immigrant visas currently and is expected to pass the one million mark soon.
The H-1B holders in the US don’t have several rights, for instance, they cannot vote in US elections and the visas last only for three years, after which it requires an extension (after which the entire visa must be renewed).
Though, there are other visa categories for Indian immigrants like B1/B2 visas, that allow them to find a new job, but it is not permissible to engage in any kind of employment under the visa categories.
When someone on a B1/B2 visa gets a job in the US, they will need to get a work permit and therefore have to change their status to an employment-authorised status.