The uncertainty around H-1B visas is more unnerving than the rules themselves

What are you doing, America?
What are you doing, America?
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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The Donald Trump administration’s flip-flop over H-1B visas has the Indian IT sector on edge.

India’s largest software exporter Tata Consultancy Services, for instance, is more worried about the lack of clarity over the policy than the possibility of tougher norms itself.

“The immediate concern of H-1B is that there are a few more bills that are being talked about, but none of that has played out as of now,” TCS human resources head Ajoyendra Mukherjee told reporters after the company announced its earnings for the October-December 2017 quarter.

Indian IT companies are among the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visas, topping the list of employers sponsoring them. A major section—nearly two-thirds—of the industry’s revenues comes from North America.

In recent months, the Trump administration has tightened the norms for H-1B visas that allow professionals to work in the US for up to six years. Among other things, it has resorted to temporarily suspending the premium processing of the H-1B, introducing bills that call for a raise in the minimum wage levels, and asking for a higher number of  “requests for evidence” for H-1B applicants.

The outsized effect of these changes are on Indian tech workers who are more likely to hold an H-1B visa (pdf) than US immigrants from elsewhere, leaving the community in a state of constant turmoil.

Most recently, reports suggested that the administration was considering a proposal that would disallow the renewal of H-1B visas for those on the green-card route, forcing them to leave the US. While the government denied having any such plans, Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order continues to fuel anxiety.

For companies, hiring more US citizens increases costs, eroding the employers’ margins. Moreover, finding the right talent in the West is a herculean task in itself. 

However, TCS’s confidence to weather the change whenever it comes stems from the fact that India’s $160 billion IT industry has been preparing for a stricter US visa regime for nearly a decade now. Companies have, for instance, been increasing local hiring there to reduce their dependence on the H-1B.

In fact, TCS is already one of the top employers in the US tech sector, recruiting over 12,500 workers there. The company has also said that it has invested close to $3 billion on employment, innovation labs, nationwide STEM education programmes, and academic partnerships and endowments. 

India’s second-largest IT firm, Infosys, has also ramped up local hiring. Starting May 2017, it vowed to hire 10,000 American workers over the next two years. It has also trained 2,500 teachers and over 135,000 students through its non-profit arm and plans to set up four technology and innovation hubs across the US.