Immigration and policy experts have told lawmakers in the United States that Indian professionals were moving towards Canada, away from America, due to the country’s outdated H-1B visa policy, reported PTI.

H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows American companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. It is highly sought-after by Indian professionals.

Stuart Anderson, the executive director of non-profit organisation National Foundation for American Policy, urged the Congress to take actions to avoid Indian professionals from moving away. Anderson was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee-Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship on a hearing titled “Oh, Canada! How Outdated US Immigration Policies Push Top Talent to Other Countries”.

“This has happened in response to how difficult it is to work in the United States in H-1B status or gain permanent residence, and the comparative ease of international students and foreign nationals working in temporary status and then acquiring permanent residence in Canada,” he said.

Anderson pointed out that without any Congressional action, the backlog for all three employment-based categories for Indians would rise from an estimated 9,15,497 professional currently to an estimated 21,95,795 individuals by the fiscal year 2030.

“We should let that number sink in: Within a decade, more than 2 million [20 lakh] people will be waiting in line for years or even decades for employment-based green cards,” he said.

An analysis of the government data by the National Foundation for American Policy showed that the number of Indian students enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering at American universities fell by over 25% between 2016-’17 and 2018-’19 academic years.

The decline is significant as international students represent nearly 75% of the full-time graduate students in computer science at these universities, according to PTI. In 2016-’17 academic year, two-thirds of the international students enrolled in the course were from India.

At the same time, the number of Indian students in Canadian universities increased by 127% – from 76,075 in 2016 to 1,72,625 in 2018 – Anderson said, citing data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

“In sum, Canada’s immigration policies are much better than America’s for facilitating the entry of talented individuals,” he said. “Congress established America’s policies in 1990, before smartphones, e-commerce, social media, cloud computing and the daily use of the internet exploded the demand for high-skilled technical labour. The world has changed since 1990. US immigration policy has not.”

While Canada has made it easy for employers to attract and retain international professionals, the US’ restrictions on high-skilled temporary visas stop a large number of foreign applicants from working in the country, he said.

In March, employers filed 3,08,613 H-1B registrations for selection of only 85,000 petitions. “That means over 72% of H-1B registrations for high-skilled foreign nationals were rejected even before an adjudicator evaluated the application,” he said.

The US immigration agency is allowed to issue 65,000 H-1B visas in a year. Additionally, it can also issue 20,000 visas to foreign students who have studied science, technology, engineering and mathematics at an American university.

‘Paper-based immigration system causing delay in processing’

Technology Councils of North America Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Young pointed out that the US’ immigration system was paper-based, which resulted in nearly all applications suffering significant delays in processing.

In comparison, Young said that Canadian companies are allowed to hire highly-skilled foreign professionals, or individuals that possess the skillsets most commonly found among H-1B applicants in the US, in four weeks.

“With more than 1,00,000 H-1B cap submissions denied annually, the United States has turned away millions of qualified, highly-skilled, and often US-educated individuals who are going to other countries to contribute to their economy,” she said.

To support her point, Young narrated an incident involving her former colleague Ketaki Desai. She said that Desai and her husband both studied in the US on student visas and got the H-1B status after graduation. They were strong contributors to the country’s economy, Young said. However, after 18 years, when they realised that their path to permanent residency was very bleak, they left for Toronto, Young said, adding the couple was now helping other individuals leave the US and join them in Canada.

The previous US administration led by former President Donald Trump took a tough stance on immigration policies. In October 2020, Trump had announced significant changes to the H-1B visa programme for high-skilled workers. It had narrowed the eligibility criteria for applicants and raised the wages American companies would have to pay to hire foreign workers. Last June, Trump had suspended the H-1B visas along with other types of foreign work visas until the end of 2020 to protect American workers.

The current Joe Biden administration is expected to liberalise Trump-era visa policies. Three memos by the Trump administration were rescinded after Biden was elected to power. In January, it had withdrawn the ban on work authorisation for H4 visa holders, who are spouses of those possessing H-1B work visas.