H1B visa troubles: Wake-up call for Indian IT sector
India takes a tough stand on the Trump administration’s visa crackdown.
It’s two steps forward and one step back – once again. We’re talking of Indo-US relations here and the rollercoaster it has been riding on since Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House.
The latest irritant to mark the otherwise warm relationship between the two countries is the tightening of rules for issuing H1B and L1 visas. A new directive issued by the Trump administration recently made it more difficult for such visa holders to apply for renewal by transferring the burden of proof on the applicant when an extension is sought.
The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in jobs that need expertise that is not easily and readily available in the US. US technology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, Google and others hire thousands of foreign professionals every year on this visa.
Indian IT professionals are the biggest recipients and the country’s tech industry is the major beneficiary of these two visa categories. The US accounts for 60 per cent of the Indian IT sector’s annual revenues of about $150 billion. That is why a smooth US visa regime is vitally important for its health.
The US move is in keeping with Donald Trump’s election promise to protect American workers from being replaced by cheaper foreign professionals.
Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu has said he will take up the issue of H1B and L1 visas “very strongly” with the US administration and added that US companies and, indeed, the US economy, which benefited immensely from the services of Indian H1B and L1 visa holders, will find it difficult to cope without them.
“We explained to them that we are not raising this issue because Indians will find it difficult to come, because the US economy itself will find it difficult to cope with the reality because the US has immensely benefited by IT professionals penetrating into the market by offering services that has improved their productivity,” he said.
Prabhu has a very strong case. Contrary to popular perception, India’s information technology companies are net job creators in the US and add tremendous value to the US economy.
A report by Nasscom, released in 2015, pointed out that the much-maligned Indian IT sector supported more than 400,000 jobs in the US and contributed more than $20 billion in federal taxes over the previous five years.
Another study by the Brookings Institute has also belied the myth that cheaper Indian professionals are snatching jobs from qualified Americans in the US. The study points out that most Indian workers on H1B visas generally earn more than comparable US workers with similar educational qualifications.
Indian tech companies create and protect jobs in the US in the following ways:
- They provide US businesses with advanced IT services and support, which help US companies maintain their global competitiveness, enter new markets, gain market share and remain profitable
- Indian companies such Wipro, Infosys, TCS have invested billions of dollars in setting up facilities in the US and created thousands of direct jobs there
- Indian companies directly employ about 100,000 US citizens and support jobs for three times as many Americans
- Over the last four years, job creation by India’s information technology companies in the US grew 10 per cent annually, compared to a 1.7 per cent overall job growth in that country.
But rational arguments often get drowned out in the din of political rhetoric. And that is precisely what is happening. Even as the Indian government takes up the issue with the US administration, the visa imbroglio should serve as a wake-up call to India and its IT sector.
Worryingly, a substantial portion of its revenues still come from relatively lower end work, which give steady margins, but which can no longer generate high levels of growth. And despite their best efforts, these companies have failed to move up the software services value chain.
It may also be time for the Indian IT sector to set its own house in order and secure its future.