H-1B Visa Changes Coming; India’s Tech Sector Panics, Then Waits

Initial panic in India over reports of an executive order to be signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump tightening the non-immigrant H-1B visa regime has subsided. Outsourcers, primarily from India, are the top recipients of H-1B visas, managing the technology departments of large U..S corporations with imported staff.
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From anxiety, the mood here has now dropped to a “wait and see” one. The Government of India has tried to allay fears by saying no such executive order has been passed and Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup explained to the media that three private bills in the matter had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, adding that such bills had been introduced in the past, too, and the mere introduction of them is nothing new. For now, the government does not want to say anything more, since the bills have to go through the full Congressional process.

Panic at the IT Department

Analysts say the panic was natural since news about the likely change in the H-1B visa rules came soon after the new President banned refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S. (the travel ban has since been temporarily lifted by a temporary restraining order from a federal judge).
Many reports have speculated that Trump will draft an executive order aimed at overhauling the work-visa program. Needless to say, any such change would affect Indian and American corporations, especially those in the Information Technology (IT) field like Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Infosys and Wipro on the Indian side. The effect on skilled workers, ranging from market research analysts to financial advisors, web developers, and even teachers would be dramatic, too.
There’s talk here of concerned officials in the Indian government having back-channel communication with their counterparts in the U.S. in an attempt to urge caution, though this remains unconfirmed. Some reports said the issue may come up during a meeting between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump slated for June.
Chief executives of some of India’s largest tech companies likely to be affected by a change in the visa process will head to Washington later this month to argue against a tightening of visa programs. The CEOs are expected to meet with administration officials and lawmakers on February 20 to try to dissuade the Trump administration from raising requirements for H-1Bs, according to R. Chandrashekhar, the president of industry group Nasscom.
A representative body, Nasscom consists of about 2,400 technology companies from India but the delegation will comprise mainly chief executives of companies that are the biggest users of H-1B visas
News of the proposed executive order sent Indian IT stocks tumbling, wiping away millions of dollars in market capitalization, in some cases.

What’s Multicultural In This Case?

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the co-founder of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy, flipped the script and said Indian software companies should stop sending people on H-1B visas and focus on local hiring in the U.S.
Seemingly resigned to new regulation being passed, Murthy — speaking to the local media — said Indian software companies must learn to recruit American residents in the U.S., Canadians in Canada and Britons in Great Britain, in order to work in a “multicultural” environment, something they (IT companies) are not yet used to. In order to do that, India should stop using H1-B visas to send a large number of Indians to those countries to deliver services, Murthy said.
The U.S. is India’s second-largest trading partner globally, taking up over 17% of its exports. Estimates peg the Indian outsourcing industry at about $110 billion dollars.

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