IT industry body Nasscom on Friday sought an exemption for technology workers from restrictions that may be imposed in the US, saying such staff is playing an essential role in keeping critical infrastructure operating in America. The statement comes amid reports that the US is considering suspension of a number of employment visas including the H-1B - which is much sought-after among Indian IT professionals - in view of the massive unemployment in America due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nasscom said as businesses reopen, it is important for the US to access talent critical to the recovery phase, and American enterprises need access to essential technology workers who are keeping critical infrastructure operating.
"These include healthcare, hospitals and online services and playing key roles to develop treatments for this disease -- to name a few vital services. Highly skilled workers on non-immigrant visas (NIVs) such as H-1Bs and L-1s, are playing critical roles in the delivery of these services and the development of these products," Nasscom said in a statement.
It added that without their continued contributions, "the economic pain would worsen, the industry would slow, and the timeline for a treatment and cure could lengthen".
"Given this, we seek exemption for technology workers as essential workers, from any restrictions that may be imposed in a second White House Proclamation. Priorities established by DHS' CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) that designates key categories of ICT workers as essential service, should help define the types of essential workers," it said.
Nasscom stated that demand for high-tech skills remains strong among employers in the US labour market, even amidst the current COVID-19 crisis.
Unemployment rate for computer occupations (those most common amongst H-1B visa holders) declined from 3 per cent in January 2020 to 2.5 per cent in May 2020, while the unemployment rate for all other occupations grew from 4.1 per cent in January 2020 to 13.5 per cent in May 2020, it said.
Also, in the 30-day period ending May 13, 2020, there were over 6,25,000 active job vacancy postings advertised online for jobs in common computer occupations, including those most common to H-1B visa holders, Nasscom said citing an analysis of Bureau of Labour Statistics' Current Population Survey by the National Foundation for American Policy.
"The data raises significant questions about using the argument of the unemployment rate for computer professionals to justify the new restrictions on H-1B visa holders and international students working on optional practical training (OPT)," it said.
The industry body said non-immigrant visa programmes like the H1-B and L-1 enable the US businesses to bridge the STEM skills deficit and access skilled tech workforce not available locally, thereby ensuring they can deliver on projects that keep them on the leading-edge of global competitiveness.