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H1B extensions not under threat, says USCIS; H4 visa holders continue tense wait

H1B workers in Trump-led America waiting in the endless green card queue are heaving a collective sigh of relief after news trickled in Monday that the US has not (yet) penciled in any changes to clamp down on H1B extensions as reported a couple of weeks ago in a Washington DC based newspaper bureau and then sprayed by the global media.

“What we can say, however, is that 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,” Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS said Monday, according to PTI.

There are all kinds of numbers being quoted on how many H1B workers could be affected by changes to extension rules but many of them are far off the mark. A comprehensive list of official numbers released by the USCIS is linked here for our readers.

Unlike usual practice, this particular statement has not yet found its way onto either the USCIS Twitter handle or website. Also, the messenger is neither the USCIS chief L. Francis Cissna who has been very actively speaking on Trump’s pet subject of immigration reform after he warmed up to his role a couple of months into the new job nor Kevin Cummings who is boss of the Foreign Workers division at the USCIS.

USCIS nuanced the statement indicating that H1B extensions may not be in the firing line for now but other issues certainly are within the wide ambit for “review of employment based visa programs” that Trump’s Buy American Hire American Executive Order allows.

Overall, two kinds of reactions followed after reports that knives were allegedly out for those binging on H1B extensions – one, of course, was worry and the other equally pervasive one has been that “Trump won’t have it easy and like the Muslim ban, it’ll be a legal fight”.

While the administration insists that there’s been no “pressure” to back off, there are multiple dominos to consider here. One of them is significant – a squeeze on both sides of the aisle. Reports that between 30 and 40 lawmakers have planned to resist any immigration package placed in Congress next week is the top political story in Washington D.C. Apprehension of major league legislation that may be dead on arrival is not Trump’s idea of success, now that the US President has had a yearlong flavour of legislative gridlock.

That much for the H1B.

What about the H4 visa holder? That’s another story which continues to rankle.

Will be employment authorization for H4 workers be killed?

There’s radio silence so far from the court case that just might be the decider here – Save Jobs USA versus Department of Homeland Security. What we do have been clear signals of the mood within. For instance a regulatory agenda item titled “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization” which is how it appeared on the Trump administration’s executive office calendar does little to hide intent.

If it goes badly for the H4 and the H1B worker has a narrow escape, it just reinforces the grim leitmotif of the H1B story for the last 27 years – the H4 visa is a lousy deal for dependents with similar or better skills than the H1B worker.

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