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President Trump's H1-B Visa Freeze Cancels Plans Of Indian Tech Workers


The Trump administration says its new freeze on certain types of work visas is designed to protect U.S. jobs during the COVID-19 crisis. It's having a disproportionate effect on foreign workers from one country in particular - India. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Sunny Kumar Hirpara is originally from India. He got a master's degree in the U.S. and then landed a job as an electrical engineer in Irvine, Calif. In March, he returned to India to convert his student visa to a work visa. But then the pandemic hit, and the paperwork got delayed. Then on Tuesday morning, Hirpara awoke to news of a temporary freeze on his exact type of visa for skilled workers - the H1-B.

SUNNY KUMAR HIRPARA: I woke up at, like, 5 o'clock in the morning, and I just saw the messages. I almost started crying.

FRAYER: He's been on unpaid leave for three months, staying at his parents' house in western India. Now, the new visa restrictions mean he'll be there until at least the end of the year.

HIRPARA: Initially, it was good. But it started getting, like, a little bit frustrating. And I'm in distress.

FRAYER: So are thousands of other Indians. Last year, nearly 300,000 of them got H1-B visas or renewed them. Indians are the majority of recipients. Many have advanced degrees and work for the big U.S. tech giants. Google's CEO was once an H1-B recipient from India. Nisha Biswal is president of the U.S.-India Business Council based in Washington, D.C.

NISHA BISWAL: We as a country have been such a vibrant economy and society because of our ability to draw talent from around the world. And if we stop, I think that that will adversely impact our ability to be at the top.

FRAYER: That talent could end up staying in India. Vikram Ahuja runs Talent500, an Indian recruitment firm. He says this visa freeze could be a boon to Indian companies. And he told local TV that working from home, which has become widespread in the pandemic, could change how tech companies hire.

VIKRAM AHUJA: Yeah, I think the world is changing. And I think as long as great companies seek great talent, then location and physical, you know, proximity becomes irrelevant.

FRAYER: He says people like Sunny Hirpara, the electrical engineer, could still work for U.S. companies but from home in India and pay into Indian tax coffers instead of U.S. ones.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF AESOP ROCK SONG, "NO CITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.