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What Biden’s reversal of Trump-era visa ban means for immigrants, H-1B aspirants

US President Joe Biden reversed a freeze on legal immigration imposed during the pandemic by the Trump administration.

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New Delhi: US President Joe Biden Wednesday revoked the former Trump administration’s suspension of legal immigrant visas, which has been in place since April last year.

Trump had frozen permanent residency applications or “green cards” for new immigrants and stopped temporary work visas in the H-1B, H-4, H-2B, L-1 and J categories until the end of 2020, in view of protecting the pandemic-hit job market in the US. Trump later extended the ban till March 2021.

ThePrint explains the visa policies revoked by Biden and its implications, especially for India.

Also read: As Biden shapes a new US policy, China changes tack on ties with India

Visas revoked by Trump

Trump had frozen four categories of immigration visa along with permanent residency application:

The H-1B visa, which is a non-immigrant visa, allows US companies to employ foreign workers for jobs that require theoretical or technical expertise. It is the most sought-after by Indian IT professionals.

Last April, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had received about 2.5 lakh H-1B work visa applications and 67 per cent of them were Indians.

The H4 visa allows immediate family members, usually spouses, of the H-1B visa holders to lawfully come and stay in the US.

The H-2B visa allows US employers to hire migrant workers to fill temporary non-agricultural roles in the US from ski-resort workers to amusement park employees.

L-1 visa holders are those who are already employed by a US company and are merely relocating to an American office. It is different from the H-1B, where a person is looking to join an American company.

A green card holder is a lawful permanent resident in the US, though they remain the citizen of another country.

Also read: Why Biden’s ‘America is back’ is not good for the world’s ‘China concerns’

What did Trump’s immigration ban entail?

Proclamation 10014 issued by Trump last April severely limited employment-based immigration visas and suspended approvals for green cards.

On 22 April 2020, Trump suspended the entry of certain immigrants and non-immigrants into the US in light of Covid-19. This excluded immigrants who are already in the US, existing visa holders, temporary workers in food production industries, and health care workers and researchers fighting Covid-19.

In the name of preserving the US job market, the proclamation noted: “Excess labor supply affects all workers and potential workers, but it is particularly harmful to workers at the margin between employment and unemployment, who are typically “last in” during an economic expansion and “first out” during an economic contraction.”

The proclamation also stated that between 13 March 2020, when the country declared Covid-19 a national emergency, and April 11 2020, over 22 million Americans filed for unemployment.

It has been estimated that the ban prevented about 26,000 people from obtaining green cards monthly since last April.

Furthermore, upto 1,20,000 family-based preference visas were lost, according to the American Immigrant Lawyers Association, as immigrants weren’t allowed to bring over family members unless they were US citizens applying for visas for their spouses or children under the age of 21.

Trump had often slammed what he called “chain migration”, a process by which Americans help foreign-born relatives gain citizenship in the country. In Biden’s reversal of the ban, he stated that it harms US interests if certain family members of US citizens and lawful permanent residents are prevented from joining their families.

On 22 June, 2020, Trump extended the ban under section 1 of Proclamation 10052 till 31 December. On 31 December, 2020, he extended the ban till March 2021 under section 1 of Proclamation 10131.

Also read: Biden clear about restoring compassion & order to US immigration system, says White House

What parts of Trump’s ban has Biden revoked?

According to Biden’s order, Proclamation 10014, section 1 of Proclamation 10052 and section 1 of Proclamation 10131 have been revoked.

The lifting of the ban allows family members of US citizens and green card holders to immigrate to the US.

This also applies to those selected to receive visas through the diversity visa lottery. Through this lottery, US accepts 55,000 immigrants annually from countries with historically low levels of immigration.

However, foreign workers applying for temporary visas are still banned from entering the US till 31 March, unless Biden chooses to renew it.

How will reversal of the ban benefit Indian immigrants?

Speaking to ThePrint, Subbaraju Pericherla, an H-1B visa expert and founder of strategic business solutions provider CrossBorders, said, “This is definitely a positive move from the perspective of all immigrants, Indian or otherwise. The ban had adversely affected middle-class Indian families who wanted to move to the US. I think this will alleviate that.”

However, according to Ganesh Natarajan, chairman of 5F World, a platform for digital startups and ventures, while the Biden administration is trying to say it is aiming for a more “benevolent” immigration policy, how this translates into fine print remains to be seen.

“The opportunity for H4 dependents of H-1B visa holders, usually spouses, to seek gainful employment should be protected. Also, the H-1B process as well as the Green Card path for H1 and L1 holders should be simplified and accelerated,” he told ThePrint.

Also read: India should expect greater US scrutiny of domestic issues, if Biden’s speech was any clue


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