Trump as President may pose problems for Indian IT professionals

Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election bodes ill for the main US visa programme for technology workers as a combination of Trump and the proposed attorney general Senator Jeff Sessions - both critics of the skilled-worker programme - could bring the issue of foreign IT professionals under renewed scrutiny.

While Trump has been blowing hot and cold on the campaign trail, sometimes criticising the visas but at other times calling them an important way to retain foreign talent, sending mixed signals, Sessions has been more forthright in criticising the skilled-worker programme.

Sessions has long been fighting to curtail the skilled-worker programme and had also introduced legislation last year aiming to make the visas less available to large outsourcing companies such as Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services - by far the largest users of H-1B visas – as they provide foreign contractors to US IT companies looking to slash costs.

''Thousands of US workers are being replaced by foreign labor,'' Sessions had stated at a February hearing.

Under the so-called H-1B visas, the US admits 65,000 workers and another 20,000 graduate student each year. America's technology industry, which is thriving on imported skills, has been lobbying to expand the programme. But, under Trump and the new attorney-general, may now have to fight a rear-guard action to protect it.

Trump, meanwhile, has been busy meeting business partners ahead of his moving into White House to assume his presidency. Trump also met with three Indian businessmen who are building an apartment complex with the president-elect's name, earlier this week, raising issues of conflict of interest.

It is still not known how the real estate mogul will separate himself from his business interests once he becomes leader of the free world.

The H-1B visa is intended for specialty occupations that typically require a college education. Companies use them in two main ways to hire technology workers.

Tech firms such as Microsoft and Google typically hire highly-skilled, well-paid foreign workers that are in short supply. They help many of them secure so-called green cards that allow them to work in the US permanently.

By contrast, firms such as Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, both based in India, use the visas to deploy lower-paid contractors that critics say rarely end up with green cards.

H-1B visas are assigned through a lottery once a year by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. This year, companies filed 236,000 petitions for the 85,000 available visas, a cap set by US law. They are awarded to employers - not employees - and tied to specific positions.

Both Democratic and Republican critics have argued that companies such as Walt Disney Co and Southern California Edison Co, a utility, have used the program to terminate in-house IT employees and replace them with cheaper contractors.

Sessions last year urged then-Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Southern California Edison's use of H-1B visas in a letter that was signed by Democratic Sens Bernie Sanders, Richard Durbin and Sherrod Brown as well.

Disney and Edison did not immediately respond to requests for comment but have said previously that they paid foreign contractors comparably with local staffers.

Infosys, on the other hand, had to pay $34 million to the Justice Department in 2013 to settle a visa fraud case in which federal investigators had accused Infosys of using easier-to-obtain business travel visas to import foreign workers who were required to have H-1B visas.

Investigators also alleged that Infosys told foreign workers to lie to US officials about the cities where they would work.