FOREIGN FINDS

Indian techies don’t need the US—their talent is welcome elsewhere

Obsession
"America First"
Quartz india
Obsession
"America First"
Quartz india

Amid growing anxiety over the Trump administration’s possible revamp of the H-1B program, other countries around the world are putting the minds of Indian engineers at ease.

Considering that Indian companies and techies are the biggest beneficiaries (pdf, p. 6) of temporary work visas and that the US accounts for most of India’s software exports, India’s $150-billion technology sector will likely be the worst hit.

India’s IT bigwigs like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, and Wipro have been equipping themselves to deal with an impending visa-reform blow. For years now, they have employed more local talent in their North American outposts and moved projects out to near-shore centers—facilities near the US that allow people to work in similar time zones as the American market at lower costs but with fewer visa hassles.

With rising anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US, countries around the world are now opening up to Indian tech talent that is likely to be turned away from Silicon Valley if the visa restrictions are put in place.

“In attempting to reduce the incentive to bring consultants into the US, the dynamic that will be created is incentives to move the entire project outside the US,” said William Stock, an immigration lawyer and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “The big workaround is going to be: ‘How do we ship this work overseas? Because we don’t have the workforce in the US.’”

Welcome abroad

A decade ago, TCS invested in a “global delivery center” in Mexico. The same year, rival Wipro opened a software development facility in the country. Infosys followed suit in 2013. Taking note of its role as the de facto near-shore center for US operations, Mexico is more than willing to ramp up its intake of Indian talent. In an interview with Indian Express this month, Mexico’s ambassador to India, Melba Pria, called the city of Guadalajara “a technology hub with the presence of at least 10 major Indian IT companies like TCS and Infosys.”

If the immigration outlook in the US indeed turns bleak under Donald Trump, Mexico will be “more than happy to have Indians relocate to Mexico,” Pria said. In 2007, Mexico signed the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with India, which amounted to almost $6 billion in two-way trade between the countries when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi visited that nation in mid-2016.

Opportunities beyond the US market are also widening for Indian techies. On Wednesday, a delegation of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs condemned the protectionist discourse in America and pushed to solidify an EU-India trade and investment pact, which has been stalled since 2013 as of both sides failed to reach an agreement. David McAllisater, the head of the group, said that Europe is “open” to allowing more Indian professionals in, Mint reported.

After Trump moved to deny entry to people from several Muslim-majority countries last month, nearly 3,500 executives from Canada’s technology industry, in an open letter to their government, called for the institution of “an immediate and targeted visa, providing those currently displaced by the US executive order with temporary residency in Canada.” If H-1B laws become more stringent, Canada will likely have an equally heartening response.

An Indian-origin entrepreneur in Canada, Ray Walia, has tailored a program to leverage the Canadian Start-up Visa program at his not-for-profit tech incubator Launch Academy. The program allows international startups to relocate their headquarters to Canada and helps key members of the business and their families secure permanent residency in Canada within six months.

Looking east, Japan already offers a perk to short-term contract workers—they are exempt from making a social security contribution there. To woo Indian investment and talent in the longer run, Japan has introduced its own “green card” of sorts that will make skilled professionals eligible for permanent residency within two years of working in the country. “India has very advanced technology. Our ICT-related industry does not have the talent and capacity of India,” Shigeki Maeda, executive vice-president of the Japan External Trade Organization, told reporters.

Strapped for talent

With a number of countries vying to attract Indian talent to their regions, US-based companies fear becoming less competitive in the global landscape. Silicon Valley has a chronic skill shortage. Nearly two-thirds of the H-1B visas allocated in 2014 went to people in computer-related occupations, illustrating the demand for foreign workers in the US tech industry. Last year, 65% of American chief information officers and IT leaders surveyed for a Harvey Nash/KPMG report (pdf) said that skill shortages were a major drawback. Indians have given the Valley some of its most successful unicorns—private startups valued at over $1 billion—and denial of visas have driven budding entrepreneurs to set up shop elsewhere.

America’s tech industry is not ready to bow down just yet, though. Of nearly 450 human resource professionals in the US surveyed late last year by Envoy, a global immigration services provider, 55% expected their foreign national headcount to increase in the next year. More than 60% of employers described sourcing foreign national employees as “extremely or very important to their companies’ talent acquisition strategy,” up 42% from 12 months prior.

American companies not only want to recruit and retain top talent from abroad, they’re also trying to expand global operations: 59% of the employers expect to increase their demand for work authorizations outside of the US. The highest share, 27%, will look to Mexico to secure work authorization for their employees.

Homecoming

If the US shuts its door, Indian techies need not relocate elsewhere—they can just come home. India has been labeled the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and Ernst & Young ranked it as the third-best destination for technology investments. The trend of exporting engineers to America has slowed. Many bright tech professionals from the most prestigious colleges in the country don’t want to leave at all. Legacy institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, and IIT-Madras have acquired more funding and fostered research-oriented environments.

In recent years, the motherland’s lure has been strong enough to draw back some of its own exports: Peeyush Ranjan and Punit Soni left their Google gigs for e-commerce startup Flipkart in 2015, and Facebook’s Namita Gupta moved to Delhi-based restaurant listing site Zomato the year before.

Indian tech giants are also finding more workarounds to deploying non-citizen workers in the US. They’re taking advantage of offshore offices, conducting business over the cloud, and leveraging artificial intelligence.

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