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A U.S. federal judge has overturned a law limiting H-1B visas

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A US court has overturned the last two changes to the H-1B visa programme brought in by the administration of US President Donald Trump that would have significantly restricted the ability of US companies to hire foreign workers.

Judge Jeffrey White of the US District Court of Northern California said that the unemployment crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was not ‘good cause’ for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Department of Labor (DOL) to bypass the administrative requirements needed when issuing the two Interim Final Rules.

The rules had been notified without public comments and notice period, violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

Trump had brought in several changes to the H-1B visa programme during his term, with these rules being introduced a month before the Presidential elections in November. The court ruling means that it is unlikely to be implemented.

“Not only did the courts grant summary judgment – which is a high standard to reach – but the decision by Judge White really notes the lack of rational arguments made by the government, which probably makes the possibility of winning any appeal unlikely,” said Nandini Nair, partner at law firm Greenspoon Marder.

The United States issues 85,000 new H-1B visas each year, of which almost 70% are bagged by Indian nationals.

Under the new rules, the minimum wage levels for H-1B workers were increased by an average of 40%, effectively pricing them out of the market for several high-skill jobs. Further, the DHS had changed the definition of specialty occupation, employee-employer relationship and limited the validity of an H-1B visa for one year, instead of three, for a worker placed at third-party worksites.

It also allowed for increased workplace monitoring to improve compliance. While the wage rule was implemented in October, the DHS rule was to be effective from December.

“This judgement has a very important impact on businesses that were reeling under the huge increases in applicable prevailing wages for H-1B workers. The DoL is expected to soon revert to the old method of determining prevailing wages but the judgement does not specify a timeline for this,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at LawQuest, an immigration law firm.

The case disputing these changes had been filed by the US Chamber of Commerce and other industry associations and universities. Indian IT lobby group Nasscom said that it had submitted comments on behalf of thousands of member companies, objecting to the IFRs on both procedural and substantive grounds.

“We viewed the rule as unjustified and had sought for rescinding the IFRs in its entirety, given the significant harm it would do to American businesses, American workers, and to the United States’ economy as a whole. It clearly was not supported by statute or procedure,” it said in a statement.

Through the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment in the IT sector has remained at around 3-3.5%, significantly lower than the overall unemployment levels in the country. This has prompted experts to question the need to bring in tighter visa regulations aimed at boosting domestic employment.

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The U.S. has blacklisted nine Chinese companies, including smartphone maker Xiaomi

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Hong Kong — The U.S. government has blacklisted Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and China’s third-largest national oil company for alleged military links, heaping pressure on Beijing in President Donald Trump’s last week in office.

The Department of Defence added nine companies to its list of Chinese companies with military links, including Xiaomi and state-owned plane manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China .

U.S. investors will have to divest their stakes in Chinese companies on the military list by November this year, according to an executive order signed by Trump in November.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xiaomi Corp. overtook Apple Inc. as the world’s No. 3 smartphone maker by sales in the third quarter of 2020, according to data by Gartner. Xiaomi’s market share has grown as Huawei’s sales have suffered after it was blacklisted by the U.S. and its smartphones were cut off from essential services from Google.

Separately, the Commerce Department put China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) on the entity list, an economic blacklist that forbids U.S. firms from exporting or transferring technology with the companies named unless permission has been obtained from the U.S. government. The move comes after about 60 Chinese companies were added to the list in December, including drone maker DJI and semiconductor firm SMIC.

CNOOC has been involved in offshore drilling in the disputed waters South China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with other countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to U.S. national security and the security of the international community,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

“CNOOC acts as a bully for the People’s Liberation Army to intimidate China’s neighbours, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes,” Ross said.

Chinese state-owned company Skyrizon was also added to the economic blacklist, for its push to “acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies,” Ross said.

Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, founded by tycoon Wang Jing, drew U.S. criticism for an attempt to take over Ukraine’s military aircraft engine maker Motor Sich in 2017. The concern was that advanced aerospace technology would end up being used for military purposes.

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Nigerian Bishops call on President Muhammadu Buhari to hear the cries of Christians

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At the funeral of the Most Revd. Gregory Ochiaga, Emeritus Bishop of Orlu Diocese, who died on 29th December, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze called on President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the call of religious leaders and deal with the growing violence in the West African country.

“We join our yokes to many courageous religious leaders, Catholics, and non-Catholics who have spoken out against government performance in the area of insecurity in Nigeria.

“There is no religious leader who will want the Government to fail, neither is there any genuine religious leader who truly feels the pain of their people will keep quiet when the life and property of the people are not secured.

“The Government should listen to the cries of Nigerians and take Nigerians seriously when we cry for a secured life, when we ask for a good opportunity for every Nigerians, and when we ask for the inclusion of every part of the country in the governance of Nigeria and not just a minimalistic approach to fulfilling constitutional quotas of representation.

“As we speak and constructively criticise the Federal Government, we assure the Government of our prayers and collaboration in seeking to build a nation where justice and peace reign. Where prosperity for everyone is achieved,” he said.

“We know that the level of insecurity in the country has reached an all-time high. The Nigerian people are no longer safe. “On a day-to-day basis, Nigerians are killed or maimed by bandits, cattle rustlers, Boko haram [responsible for the death of an estimated 1700 Nigerians in the first half of 2019 alone], herdsmen, kidnappers and various criminal elements that our security agents have not been able to deal with.”

President Buhari, who came to power on a mandate of strengthening Nigeria’s security forces and ending the endemic insurgency in 2015, has made much of these commitments during his re-election in 2019. As public trust in the government continues to decline, there is little to comfort the country’s embattled people.

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