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US President Donald Trump (AFP)
US President Donald Trump (AFP)

Opinion | The tariff warrior’s H1B visa fee hike

America has the sovereign right to do so, but its image as a country with wide-open arms for talent has taken a beating

The Trump administration in the US, which has been trumpeting a ‘Hire American’ policy for more than a year, appears to be moving to tighten H1B visa issuances. Though an official press statement is yet to be released, US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has confirmed that apart from a cap on the number of people coming into the US on such a work visa, its application fee will be hiked. The stated purpose is to raise funds for the expansion of an apprentice programme which trains American youth for technology sector jobs. The US move is yet to be made law and details of the plan remain sketchy. But given Trump’s disposition, it’s clear to IT service companies based in India that it is aimed at them (at least partly if not wholly). It would curtail the number of Indian citizens they send on work to the US and also raise their cost of entry. In that respect, the fee hike serves as a barrier, the labour market equivalent of a tariff.

This category of visas, issued to non-immigrant foreign workers for employment at companies operating in the US, and in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise, has been in the focus of American campaigns to keep US jobs for American citizens. Recent data released by the United States Citizens Immigration Services reveals that the denial rate of this visa has soared since Trump took office. This surprises nobody who has watched his administration turn increasingly protectionist in general, overturning decades of US policy on maintaining open markets. America is pulling up its drawbridges in various ways. It has a sovereign right to do so, but its image as a country with wide-open arms for talent has taken a beating.

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