US Supreme Court to hear case on citizenship revocation

Apr 26, 2017 0

By Ashok Easwaran

Chicago– The United States Supreme Court is to begin hearing oral arguments on April 26 in a case which could set a precedent in the revocation of American citizenship of naturalized citizens and is of paramount significance to thousands of Indian residents.

In Maslenjak v. United States, the Supreme Court will determine if an “immaterial false statement or omission in an immigration document or status proceeding” can lead to criminal prosecution and revocation of citizenship.

With more rigorous immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump, the case has caused consternation among many immigrant activists. As many as 70 organizations representing immigrants have filed an amicus brief about the case.

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), which is among the organizations which filed the amicus brief, said in a statement, “The brief explained that many individuals may make minor errors in filling out immigration forms or providing information because of language barriers and lack of counsel and subjecting those individuals to criminal prosecution and loss of citizenship exacts a harsh and unfair penalty.”

“The naturalization process can be long and complicated and requires applicants to make hundreds of factual representations, in response to often ambiguous questions, about events spanning their entire lives.”

“If any trivial factual misstatement could violate the statutes at issue in this case, untold numbers of naturalized citizens would be at risk of losing their citizenship and liberty years after they have become full American citizens. Based on this case, someone accused of knowingly providing the wrong street number in an address (203 instead of 205), for example, could be subject to criminal proceedings and having their citizenship revoked – a worrying threat given the current administration’s wide-reaching enforcement and deportation activities,” the AAAJ statement said.

Maslenjak v. United States involves Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serbian woman and a native of Bosnia, who came to the United States in 2000 as a refugee in order to flee the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and was found to have made a misstatement during immigration proceedings.

The Supreme Court’s verdict in this case is considered important because it could provide guidance over whether naturalized American citizens can be stripped of their citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an “immaterial false statement”.

What could have been a case dealing with procedural matters in less turbulent times, has gained importance because of the Trump administration’s enhanced focus on immigration enforcement. The New York Times has reported that officials of two organizations which take a hard line stance on immigration – the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform — have joined the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, putting them in positions where they can carry out their agenda.

Moreover, with Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, the court now tilts to conservatism. Gorsuch, like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he succeeded, is a proponent of originalism – a judge given to interpret the words of the US Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written in 1787.

In one of the most famous cases where the United States Supreme Court ordered the revocation of citizenship involved an Indian, in 1923, the court ruled that Bhagat Singh Thind, a founder member of the Ghadar party, was racially ineligible for US citizenship. The court based this decision on the American Nationality Act of 1906 which allowed only “free white men” and “aliens of African nativity” to become naturalized citizens.

In his defence, Thind did not challenge the constitutionality of the racial restrictions, but made an extensive argument that as he was a “high-caste Hindu” and an Aryan, he came under the category of “free white persons” within the meaning of the naturalization act. Indians from North India and most Europeans are Indo-European people, he said. Elaborating on his argument, Thind said that since Aryans were the conquerors of the indigenous people of India, they had greater similarity to ‘white people’.

Thind’s lawyers also argued that as a “high caste Hindu” he even had a revulsion to marrying an Indian woman of a “lower race.” Unfortunately for Thind, the court decided to rely on another case where it was held that “white people” were only those who were members of the Caucasian race. As a result of the court’s decision, the first Indian to become an American citizen, A.K. Mozumdar, also had his American citizenship revoked. (IANS)

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Apple, Cisco, IBM owe their success to world-wide talent sourcing: Reserve Bank of India chief

Apr 25, 2017 0

By Arul Louis

New York– The titans at the commanding heights of the tech world owe their success to talent from across the globe, according to Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel, who pointed to what could be the Achilles heel of the ‘America First’ policy that seeks to restrict H1-B visas and imports.

“Where would Apple be, where would Cisco be, where would IBM be if they were not sourcing the best products and talent from across the world,” Patel asked here on Monday, and added a warning: “If policies come in the way of that, then the big wealth creators in a country that advocates protectionism are ultimately affected.”

Last year Apple applied for 1,354 H1-B visas, Cisco for 517, and IBM for 2,233 to bring in talent for their operations, according to a database maintained by Immihelp. (IBM applied for 13,115 H1-B visas in 2015.) H1-B visas are a scarce commodity in the tech world where companies vie for annual quota of the 85,000 visas meant for highly-skilled professionals.

Urjit Patel

Although Patel did not mention Google or Microsoft, both companies are headed by immigrants from India. The triumvirate at the top of the market capitalisation roster, Apple, Google and Microsoft, all have immigrant origins or connections.

Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Google, which was co-founded by Sergey Brin who immigrated from the former Soviet Union.

The biological father of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, is a Syrian immigrant, Abdulfattah Jandali.

“The most efficient corporations in the world, including in the US, benefit, their share prices are where they are because of the global supply chain,” Patel said. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s performance underscores his observation about market performance.

Microsoft’s share prices that were lagging around the $36 range when he took over in February 2014 closed on Monday at $67.53.

Donald Trump, who ran for President on a platforms of “Buy American, Hire American”, has called for restricting the H1-B visas for professionals to higher-level technical positions paying higher wages and for bringing back manufacturing to the US.

While answering audience questions after delivering the annual Kotak Family Distinguished Lecture at Columbia University, Patel was skeptical about the efficacy of restricting H1-B visas and imports to solve the domestic problem of equity.

He ascribed the calls for protectionism in the US to income inequality, and said they “should be addressed through domestic fiscal policies, in other words, taxation and income transfers”.

“Using trade instruments like customs duty, border tax, etc. is not the most efficient way. In fact, it could end up somewhere else.” (IANS)

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TCS, Infosys got only 8.8 percent of H-1B visas, Nasscom rebuts US claim

Apr 24, 2017 0

Bengaluru– Indian IT industry’s apex organisation has said that the two top companies — TCS and Infosys — got only 8.8 per cent of the H-1B visas for placement of workers in the United States.

“Of the six Indian IT companies, software majors TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) and Infosys received 7,504 H-1B visas in FY 2015, which is 8.8 per cent of the total H-1B visas,” said the National Association of Software Services and Companies (Nasscom) in a statement here.

The apex body’s clarification was in response to a US official last week accusing top Indian IT firms TCS and Infosys of unfairly cornering majority of the H-IB visas, by applying more in the lottery system.

President Donald Trump

Only six Indian IT firms were among the top 20 recipients of the H-1B visas in fiscal 2015 for their professionals to work in the US, said Nasscom.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to reform the H-1B visas norms by replacing the lottery system with a merit-based immigration policy.

“Every reputable data source in the US has documented a growing shortfall between the supply and demand for computer science majors in the US workforce, especially in cutting-edge fields such as cloud, big data, and mobile computing,” asserted Nasscom.

The US Department of Labor estimates that there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs by 2018, with 50 per cent of the vacancies in IT-related positions.

“Indian IT firms account for less than 20 per cent of the H-1B visas; although Indian nationals get 71 per cent of them, testifying their high skill levels, especially in the very coveted STEM skills category,” stressed Nasscom.

Noting that the annual number of Indian IT specialists working on temporary visas for Indian IT service firms was 0.009 per cent of the 158-million-member US workforce, a Nasscom survey also found that the average wage for visa holders is $82,000 besides a fixed cost of $15,000 incurred on each visa, including its fee and related expenses.

“The average wage for visa holders is over 35 per cent higher than the minimum prescribed exempt wage of $60,000,” pointed out the Nasscom statement.

All companies, including the US, Indian and others, hire locally and bridge the skills gap by bringing in highly skilled professionals to temporarily work in the US on H-1B and other visas.

“Indian IT firms follow the global delivery model with US and global counterparts working with 75 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies, to enable them become more competitive globally and creating jobs locally in the US,” reiterated the statement.

The Indian IT Industry is a “net creator” of jobs in the US and supports half a million jobs directly and indirectly.

Refuting the American accusation, Infosys said it was committed to helping its US clients leverage technology to transform their businesses, empower their employees in new ways and become more competitive.

“To do this, we invest in the local communities in which we operate, including hiring local American top talent, bringing education and training to our clients to shrink the skills gap and work with policymakers to foster innovation within states and across the country,” said Infosys in a statement to IANS here.

Responding to reporters’ queries on the issue on Monday in New Delhi, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India is taking up its concerns with the US on the H-1B visa issue and not about individual companies.

“No one is questioning America’s sovereign right to issue visas… we’re only talking about their commitments made in their understanding with us on issuing visas to Indian professionals. There is no talk of individual companies,” she said. (IANS)

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Jaitley raises H-1B visa issue with US authorities

Apr 23, 2017 0

Washington– The vexed issue of the Trump administration mulling curbs in H-1B visas has been taken up with by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with the American authorities during his ongoing visit, an Indian official said on Sunday.

The issue was raised by Jaitley during his meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin here on Saturday, an Indian Finance Ministry statement said.

“Finance Minister Arun Jaitley raised the issue of H-1B visas for skilled professionals from India and highlighted the contribution which Indian companies and professionals are making to US economy,” it said.

Arun Jaitley

The issue stems from recent executive orders signed by US President Donald Trump which indicate a possible tightening of the H-1B visas.

“Issues related to terror funding were also discussed and the US Treasury Secretary appreciated the role of India in this regard, including Indo-US cooperation in FATF (Financial Action Task Force),” the statement said.

“Critical economic issues like Indo-US Investment Initiative, infrastructure collaboration, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, collaboration with USA for smart cities development, etcetera, were deliberated upon during the meeting,” it added.

Jaitley is on a five-day visit to the US to attend the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

According to the Finance Ministry, Jaitley also held bilateral meetings with the Finance Ministers of Sweden, France and Bangladesh, as well as with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

Meanwhile, the US, in turn, has alleged that Indian IT companies were unfairly cornering the major share of H-1B visas by putting extra tickets in the lottery system, which the current US administration wants to replace with a more merit-linked immigration policy.

“The top recipients of the H-1B visa are companies like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant — they will apply for a very large number of visas, more than they get, by putting extra tickets in the lottery raffle, if you will, and then they’ll get the lion’s share of visas,” a senior US official said at a White House briefing last week, according to transcripts posted on the White House website.

“And those three companies are companies that have an average wage for H-1B visas between $60,000 and $65,000. By contrast, the median Silicon Valley (US) software engineer’s wage is probably around $150,000,” the official said. (IANS)

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Los Angeles police won’t act as federal immigration force

Apr 21, 2017 0

Los Angeles–Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed that local police would not help the federal government detain undocumented immigrations for deportation.

In his State of the City address in English and Spanish at City Hall on Thursday, Garcetti directly addressed ongoing relationship between the second largest city of the country and President Donald Trump’s administration over the contentious issue of illegal immigration, Xinhua news agency reported.

“The LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) will never act as a federal immigration force,” Garcetti said, promising that other city agencies would follow suit, which drew warm applause in the hall.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Photo: Wikipedia)

“We want people in this city to earn legal wages, pay taxes and start businesses,” Garcetti said, despite President Trump threatening to cut federal funding of cities that act as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.

The Mayor said he was heartened in January to see Los Angeles residents rush to airports to offer services to travellers blocked by Trump’s executive order from entering the US.

It was not the first time that Californian politicians displayed a stern attitude against Trump’s immigration policy.

“In California, immigrants are an integral part of who we are and what we’ve become,” Governor Jerry Brown said earlier this year,

“They have helped create the wealth and dynamism of this state from the very beginning.” (IANS)

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Jaitley will take up H-1B visa issue in US visit: Sitharaman

Apr 20, 2017 0

New Delhi– Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, currently on a visit to the US, will take up with the American administration the matter of restrictions on H-1B visas, the government said on Thursday.

Speaking to media here on the executive order signed by US President Donald Trump on H-1B visas, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the US had committed certain number of these visas to India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and “we would definitely want” America to honour that commitment.

“It is not just the US, but several countries now adopting such (restrictive) measures,” she said.

The restrictive visa regime would also impact the US companies operating in India, the Minister said.

“So it is not a unilateral (issue) where Indian companies would have to face this… there are several US companies in India which are doing business for years here,” she said.

While the US is reviewing its visa programme for foreign workers, Australia has recently abolished a temporary work visa programme — the 457 visa.

Citing the examples of these countries tightening their visa regime for movement of skilled professionals, Sitharaman said: “Countries are now very clearly raising protectionist walls as regards service trade.”

Arun Jaitley

“I protest comparison of asylum-seeking migrants with skilled professionals.”

To a question whether India would take the US and Australia to the WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism, she replied: “At this stage, we will engage constructively. At the same time, India will ensure that it will not accept unfair treatment.”

In this connection, Sitharaman said India has submitted a proposal to the WTO for an agreement on trade facilitation in services (TFS)

“It is time that we have a global framework within which trade in services can happen. We will be actively pursuing our proposal in the WTO,” she said.

India has presented a concept note at the WTO for a TFS Agreement, which proposes a way forward on comprehensively addressing the numerous border and behind-the-border barriers on the lines of the historic trade facilitation agreement in goods.

The TFS proposal aims at liberalising rules for movement of professionals, liberalised visa regime and long-term business visas.

India is pushing for a TFA in services at the WTO as this sector has huge potential and contributes significantly to the country’s economy.

Pointing out that the Indian services sector contributes over 55 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, Sitharaman earlier said India was unable to leverage its strength in services to get the necessary benefits in the TFA in goods signed with the Asean group, for instance.

Meanwhile, India’s paper for a proposed TFS Agreement has been well received by many member countries, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told reporters here during a visit last month.

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H-1B not immigration but trade, services issue: India

Apr 20, 2017 0

New Delhi– With US President Donald Trump ordering tougher conditions for issuance of H-1B visas, the biggest beneficiaries of which are Indians, a senior official here said on Thursday that it is not a matter concerning immigration but that of trade and services.

“It is not an immigration matter as we have said earlier, it is basically a trade and services issue,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said in his weekly media briefing.

“There is the mutuality of interests involved over here,” he said.

On Tuesday, hammering his “America First” campaign theme, Trump signed an order tasking the department heads of State, Justice, Homeland Security and Labor to propose reforms in order to ensure H-1B visas are given to the “most-skilled or highest paid” petitioners.

The move is seen as a deterrent to Indian IT firms which send software engineers to the US on H-1B visas.

Baglay said that just as there are Indian companies in the US, there are US multinationals operating in India.

Gopal Baglay

He said that the government is talking to industry bodies as the matter directly concerns Indian workers in the IT industry.

“We have already pointed out then contribution which the Indian professionals have made to the competitiveness of the US economy and the innovations within the US economy,” he stated.

“We have also earlier on referred to the contribution of these professionals as bridge builders between the two economies of the United States and India as well as between our societies.”

The spokesperson said that what has happened in the US is that an executive order has been passed.

“Now, it has to be acted upon and as a result of which it could perhaps be expected that there could be a legislation in the US Congress or there could be some other sort of process concerning the H-1B visas,” Baglay said.

“So, once that process takes place, then we will have to make an assessment depending upon the details at that stage of the changes made.”

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No early risks from H-1B visa reforms, UK poll

Apr 20, 2017 0

Bengaluru– The H1-B visas reforms in the US or the snap poll in Britain over Brexit issue will pose no near-term risks to the Indian IT industry, global research analyst Jefferies said on Thursday.

“The US President’s order on immigration was sparse in detail and in contrast to fears of major clampdown, poses few incremental risks. Near-term risks of work visa reforms for the IT sector have waned,” claimed the global investment bank in a statement from New York.

Similarly, snap elections in Britain on June 8 indicate a softer Brexit, reducing probability of shocks to India IT sector though volatility in pound and euro on dollar revenues needs to be kept under watch, it said.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled ‘Buy American, Hire American’ to tighten the grant of H-1B visas. The order also makes specific suggestions for H-1B visas to be granted to the most skilled and the highest paid applicants.

“Prima facie, the order does not lay out either limits for the visa quotas, definition of wages or skills other than what is already prescribed, or a timeline under which this needs to be implemented,” asserted Jefferies Equity Analyst Vaibhav Dhasmana in the statement.

Equating the order to the April 4 guidance memo of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the analyst said it (order) would not change what is already in practice.

“In reality, the order means little, given that the scrutiny of Indian visas has been high in recent years even though it does indicate a higher focus on skilled labour immigration,” noted Dhasmana.

In view of the low unemployment rates in the US (-2.5 per cent for graduates 25 years and older), the research firm said immigration reforms would have to balance protectionism and business needs.

“For Indian IT (industry), the risk is from legislative reforms (bills proposing increase of minimum wage), which does not seem to be priority for the Congress and hence near-term risks have waned though noise levels might remain high,” Dhasmana pointed out.

Noting that the June 8 British snap poll was to seek a higher majority to iron out issues in negotiating Brexit, Jefferies said the fears of the Indian IT firms were over their volume growth getting impacted or delayed decision-making, as reflected in the scrapping of an IT project by the Royal Bank of Scotland to Indian software major Infosys in August 2016.

“The weakness of the pound and euro had also led to cross-currency headwinds on reported dollar revenue in the September-December quarter of calendar year 2016,” recalled Dhasmana.

A higher majority for the ruling Conservative Party would mean a firmer hand for its Prime Minister Theresa May in negotiating a softer Brexit with the European Union and reduced risks of potential shocks for Indian IT firms.(IANS)

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No impact of Australian visa move on Indian techies: Nasscom

Apr 19, 2017 0

New Delhi– Indian techies working in Australia would not be affected by its government’s move on visas granted to them under a specific category, said the Indian IT industry’s representative body Nasscom on Wednesday.

“Our initial assessment is that the move should not have a major impact on visas granted to Indian IT workers, as the ‘457 visa category’ covered a lot of fields and was difficult to manage,” said the National Association of Software Services and Companies (Nasscom) in a statement.

The Australian Government recently announced that it would abolish the 457 visa and replace it with two new visas to protect the interests of native workers.

“The move seems to have been driven by domestic political compulsions where we are seeing immigration as a matter of huge political concern within the current geo-political environment,” said Nasscom, adding it understood the visa category is being replaced by two new streams of short-term (2+2 year) and long-term category from March 2018.

“As the 457 visa is valid till its expiry, its holders can stay and work in Australia although under a restricted occupation list category,” it said.

About 95,000 foreigners, including many Indians are in Australia under the 457 visa norm, which the government wants to scrap and give their jobs to locals.

The 457 visa category enables Australian firms to hire skilled foreigners for four years due to shortage of native workers with same skills.

“We see this change as evolutionary and a new policy of the Australian government. There will be additional requirements, including a test in English and 2 years of work experience, while salary exemptions will go,” said Nasscom, adding it was however working with the Indian and Australian governments on the changes and to ensure they could be implemented without disrupting business continuity and value for Australian customers.

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Life beyond H-1B: Try L1, EB5 visas, experts suggest

Apr 19, 2017 0

By Aroonim Bhuyan

New Delhi– The cap for US H-1B visas for 2018 may have been reached but immigration experts say that Indian applicants, who form the majority of the recipients of such visas, have other options as well — such as the L1 and EB5 visas.

US missions across the world started accepting H-1B applications for fiscal 2018 from April 3. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), it received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period.

On April 11, the USCIS used a computer-generated lottery to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general category cap and the 20,000 cap for those with advanced US degrees.

The new Donald Trump administration has also sought to make acquiring H-1B visas tougher. The USCIS on March 31 issued a clarification that computer programmers, to be eligible under the H-1B visa norms, must prove that theirs is a specialty occupation. Merely obtaining a computer degree may not be enough.

Meanwhile, a private member’s bill was also introduced in the US Congress by Democrat Zoe Lofgren which seeks to increase the minimum salary of H1-B visa holder to a whopping $130,000 from the current minimum of $60,000.

The bill, if passed, will impact the margins of IT companies, the biggest beneficiaries of the H1-B visa programme, or their clients will face higher charges for the work performed, Mark Davies, Global Chairman of Davies & Associates, LLC, which specialises in US immigration law, told IANS in an email interview.

Abhinav Lohia

According to Abhinav Lohia, Partner and Practice Chair of India and Southeast Asia at Davies & Associates, Indian companies will now have to scout for American talent or opt for alternatives like L1B or L1A visas to send workers to the US.

L1 visas facilitate the temporary transfer of a foreign worker in the managerial, executive or specialised knowledge category to the US to continue employment with an office of the same employer.

The L1 visa can help as “a lot of US companies prefer to deal with a local company or someone on the ground in the United States representing a foreign company instead of dealing directly with the foreign company”, Lohia explained.

“US presence gives the US companies/clients confidence since US courts will most probably have jurisdiction over disputes,” he added. “Also, the companies that establish a presence in the United States also register their intellectual property there, which again is viewed favourably.”

Of course, the H-1B and L1 visas are for employees. If you have enough money, you can opt for the EB5 visa, Lohia said.

For an EB5 visa, the applicant needs to invest $500,000 in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) or $1,000,000 in a non-TEA and the investment should result in 10 jobs.

In recent times, there has been a sharp hike in the number of Indian applicants for EB5 visas and Lohia attributed multiple reasons for this, including the fact that the US is a better country to retire in and there are more opportunities to expand business operations.

According to Davies, parental gifting of the funds necessary for an EB5 application may now be the only option for Indian students seeking employment after graduation in the US.

Lohia said that EB5 and L1A visas may lead to permanent residence and eventually to US citizenship faster.

“It puts an end to the dependence on the employer for staying in the United States,” he said.

“Upon being fired from his/her job, an H1-B visa holder may have to leave the country along with his/her family, whereas once someone gets permanent residence they are no longer dependent on others for their stay in the US as long as they are law-abiding and renew their Green Card on time.”

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