The US Department of Homeland Security is close to approving a policy that will remove the right of at least some H-1B visa holders’ spouses to work in the US, the Mercury News reported last week, based on a new court filing:
Those affected hold the H-4 visa, a work permit for spouses and under-21 children of H-1B workers. It remains unclear if all spouses of H-1B holders will be banned from working, as Homeland Security has only said “certain H-4 spouses” will be targeted by the new rule. Because not all H-4 holders are allowed to work, it appears that “certain H-4 spouses” may refer to all who are work-eligible.
Controversy over the H-4 has spun off from the furor over the H-1B, which is relied upon heavily by Silicon Valley technology companies but attacked by critics over reported abuses. Homeland Security, which had earlier said it would make the change in February, filed an update in a federal court case on Monday to inform the court that the new rule was in the final “clearance review” and that the department’s intention to impose the ban was unchanged.
H-4 visa holders were granted the right to work under a policy change made by the Obama administration in 2014. The Trump administration began considering a reversal of this policy in April 2017 and it became part of the regulatory changes the government developed in response to President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued that month, which called for a crackdown on guest worker programs like the H-1B visa and stricter enforcement against allegedly widespread fraud and abuse in these programs. The Department of Homeland Security formally proposed ending work authorization for H-4 visa holders last December.
Short-term assignments are becoming more popular among skilled professionals in India, the Economic Times reported this week, with an emerging “white-collar gig economy” in IT implementation, marketing, design, and other fields reflecting these professionals’ desire for more flexibility and control over their careers:
It’s early days, but as more Indians opt for new work arrangements, interest is growing across age and experience brackets. Leading the charge are young employees with five-plus years of experience, confident in their abilities to do well even without the cushion of a permanent job, and mid-career people who have built up a nest egg and now want more flexibility and a work-life balance. …
Three months ago, EY launched GigNow, a tech platform that connects people seeking short-term employment options or flexibility with EY in India. Sandeep Kohli, national director for HR at EY, told ET that over 70 such jobs are on offer on the platform and almost 700 people have applied. Initially, it started with consulting and now it has added finance and HR gigs. The next step is to launch a GigNow for women.
While Indian professional culture has historically put a premium on strong ties between employees and their employers, times are changing. Indian Millennials, like young professionals around the world, are putting greater emphasis on autonomy and work-life balance. Greater flexibility is also seen as a key tool for encouraging Indian women to remain in the workforce after having children. To that end, Indian entrepreneurs are establishing online recruiting platforms and coworking spaces specifically geared toward connecting women with flexible work or facilitating the launch of their own businesses.
Google’s powerful new job search feature, launched in the US last June, has begun its global expansion and is now available in India and Canada. The India expansion will aggregate job listings from over a dozen partners, the Economic Times‘ Surabhi Agarwal reported last week, including some multinational partners like LinkedIn and IBM Talent Management Solutions, as well as India-specific job search sites like QuezX, QuikrJobs, and Shine.com:
Rajan Anandan, Vice President India & Southeast Asia, said in the last quarter of 2017, Google saw more than a 45% increase in the number of job search queries. “SMEs are the largest job creators but are often unable to make their listings discoverable. This new job search experience powered by our partners and our open platform approach attempts to bridge this gap,” he added.
With “Google for Jobs,” as the feature is commonly known, the search giant does not host job listings itself but rather directs search traffic to partner job boards using its sophisticated search algorithm, promising to more efficiently connect job seekers with positions already being listed in their geographic area and professional field.
Canadians can also now use Google’s powerful search tool to find their next job, the company has announced. Partner organizations in that country include the Canadian government’s Job Bank/Guichet-Emplois, BCJobs.ca, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster.ca, Jobillico, and Jobboom.
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More H-1B visas are being granted to US tech companies, whereas India-based outsourcing firms are receiving fewer of them, according to an analysis of government data on 2017 H-1B allocations from the National Foundation for American Policy. This trend, the NFAP argues in its policy brief, “reflect[s] the strong demand for high-skilled talent” in the US and “would appear to undermine the argument that the federal government should impose new restrictions on H-1B visas.”
The Trump administration has indeed been determined to restrict the use of these visas, which are awarded to highly skilled foreign workers to fill gaps in the US labor market, as part of President Donald Trump’s overall anti-immigration posture. While only an act of Congress can fundamentally restructure of the program and Trump’s desired rule changes have not yet been enacted, the administration has subtly undermined it by suspending premium processing two years in a row, tightening approval standards, and proposing to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders, the spouses of H-1B workers (a plan the administration reaffirmed this week).
It is difficult to say with certainty, however, whether the shift observed in the NFAP’s research is a rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown or a consequence of it. It may reflect the changing strategies of major Indian outsourcing companies since Trump’s election, which portended a change in H-1B policy and made it riskier for these firms to rely on the visas. Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services and outsourcing company and one of the leading users H-1Bs, announced plans last year to hire 10,000 US citizen employees and open new innovation hubs throughout the US. Infosys said at the time that this decision predated the Trump administration, but it still serves to guard against a scenario in which the supply of H-1B visas was curtailed.
Some observers see the gravitation of H-1Bs away from outsourcing companies as a response to the Trump administration’s policies, or even a sign that these policies are working. Axios’s Stef Kight captured both sides of the debate in her reporting:
Employers in India are abandoning the traditional practice of across-the-board annual raises to more targeted compensation strategies in which employees are increasingly expected to earn their raises through high performance or professional development, Saumya Bhattacharya reports at the Economic Times:
Last month, when Aon India Consulting announced the findings of its salary increase survey for 2017-18, average increment was estimated to be 9.4% for the year, almost the same as last year. From 2014 to 2018 (projections), average salary increment has declined from 10.4% to 9.4% — with the focus on performance becoming sharper each year. With the ability to learn new skills getting added to the high-performance matrix, the definition of top performers is also set to change.
Top performers, according to the new definition, would get an average salary increase of 15.4%, about 1.9 times that of an average performer, said the survey. … Experts say the phase of a large chunk of employees getting 14-15% increments is over. Ten years ago, you would have 20% of the organisation categorised as high performers. This has shrunk to 7.5% of the population in a company, they add.
Quartz’s Maria Thomas highlights new data from the Monster Salary Index, released by the online employment portal Monster India, showing that the longer Indian women work, the more their pay lags behind that of their male peers:
Data for 2017 show Indian women with three to five years of experience earn marginally higher median wages (1.09%) than men at the same level. But the tide begins to turn once employees have six to 10 years of experience, with men earning 15.3% more than women. And at over 11 years of experience, the gender pay gap becomes a startling 25%. …
These figures are particularly frustrating given all the obstacles women must typically overcome in the first place to make it to the top of their fields. To begin with, India’s conservative society still identifies bearing and caring for children as a woman’s primary role. That makes it incredibly difficult to juggle household responsibilities alongside professional ones. All the more so after childbirth—that is if at all new mothers are allowed to return to the workplace. Among those who are, only a lucky few can expect a reliable support system, including childcare facilities and flexible timings.
These challenges are by no means specific to India. Studies in the US and UK have also found that the gender pay gap starts small and grows over the course of people’s careers, with marriage and children playing a role in holding back the growth of women’s earnings as they either make sacrifices in their own career to accommodate their spouse’s, take career breaks to raise children, or find themselves shut out of promotions and stretch assignments due to family obligations (if not outright gender bias).
Because the gender role expectations placed on Indian women are even more restrictive than those of their peers in Western countries, the obstacle is that much greater, but not qualitatively different.
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In keeping with President Donald Trump’s agenda of stopping alleged abuses of US work visa programs, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a new policy on Thursday that will subject H-1B skilled worker visa applications to greater scrutiny. The changes, which USCIS says are meant to address abuses common among H-1B employers, mean that the agency “may request detailed documentation to ensure a legitimate employer-employee relationship is maintained while an employee is working at a third-party worksite.”
This will have a significant impact on the outsourcing firms that currently account for the bulk of H-1B visa applications, Ananya Bhattacharya explains at Quartz:
So, when Indian techies, who make for a majority of the H-1B applicants each year, apply for the visas now, they may have to furnish “evidence of actual work assignments,” the notice said. These include technical documentation, milestone tables, marketing analysis, cost-benefit analysis, brochures, and funding documents. In addition, the applications will also have to include various contracts, a worker’s itinerary, and detailed statements of work, among other things.
The move, in line with Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order from last year, will directly impact an entire cohort of Indian outsourcing firms like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, Wipro, and others. These companies often send workers from India, deputing them to third-party sites on a contract basis. … The closer scrutiny will also likely make H-1B extensions tougher to secure. To get the next round of approvals, the “petitioner should also establish that the H-1B requirements have been met for the entire prior approval period,” the USCIS said.