In a startling move that went contrary to almost everyone's expectations, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that there would be no changes in H-1B "skilled worker" visas this year.
Applicants who still wished to apply for the skilled worker category visa would face the same Congressional limit of 65,000 in the general category and another 20,000 for foreign students who have a masters degree or higher from a US academic institution.
The agency said it will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2018 cap on April 3, but that "all cap-subject H-1B petitions filed before April 3, for the fiscal year 2018 cap will be rejected." However, there was no word about when it would continue accepting the H-1B visa petitions, which it usually does for five business days.
Even though the quotas remain the same, it will be interesting to see whether the USCIS does anything on April 3 to mitigate the manipulation of the Labour Condition Application (LCA) process (which is a precursor to getting the actual visa), or the lottery system itself.
With several congressional bills on the table that aimed at throttling the H-1B visa on grounds that it was costing American tech workers their jobs, as well as an impending executive order from President Trump that aspired to do the same, it was widely felt that the days of the H-1B were numbered.
At serious risk are tens of thousands of jobs performed by Indian workers who are being sent to the US by Indian IT services companies such as Infosys, Wipro, and TCS on contracts with American firms that bring in around $75 billion of business. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the entire future of Indian IT hinges on what happens here.
With the premium processing category -- which has become a popular route for the filing of an H-1B -- recently suspended by USCIS for six months, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the quotas for the H-1B were next to feel the executioner's axe.
Indian IT firms will be a relieved lot to hear that at least for the upcoming year, it's business as usual -- in other words a one year reprieve during which they can continue their contingency plans to figure out how to ease dependency on the US.
That's because despite the H-1B quotas remaining the same for now, President Trump has promised a complete immigration overhaul in the near future that many say will almost definitely include reforming the H-1B -- originally meant for highly skilled workers but what critics say is now gamed by Indian outsourcers.