H-1B visa: US lacks skilled talent, can't afford en masse deportation of Indian IT employees, says Mohandas Pai

Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the proposed change in H-1B visa regulation and its impact on India's IT industry, its employees and the future of offshore projects, particularly in the US. In Part-1 of the series,  former director of Infosys and present chairman of Manipal Global Education, Mohandas Pai, talks about how the Indian IT sector won't be affected by change in US visa regulations.

If the proposed change in H-1B visas come into force, around 5-7 lakh Indians could be sent home. The move could directly stop hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from keeping their H-1B visas while their green card applications are pending. However, IT industry veteran Mohandas Pai demolishes that fear as a myth, stating that the move would hurt the US more because it "simply does not have the talent for the IT sector like India has".

File image of Mohandas Pai. Reuters.

File image of Mohandas Pai. Reuters.

In his bid to stay true to his campaign promise of “Buy American, Hire American", boost manufacturing and protect local jobs for Americans, US President Donald Trump is considering new regulations aimed at preventing the extension of H-1B visas, predominantly used by Indian IT professionals.

Pai believes Trump is trying to reduce the 'backlog' of visa applications. “Most people who are on an H-1B visa extension and applying for the green card are employees of American MNCs (multinational companies). There are very few from the Indian IT workforce who would want an extension,” he says.

However, a media report quoting the Pew Research Center report said that the proposed changes in H-1B visas would have a dramatic effect, particularly on India considering more than half of all H-1B visas have been awarded to Indian nationals.

Pai believes Indian IT professionals who are working on projects in the US are keen only on work visas. If the Trump administration does not extend their visas, senior and high-quality talent will take a beating and that would detrimental to US companies, he says.

Not just the US companies but also their politicians would be affected. Pai believes that they would lobby against it, and that would be good as it may lead to a reform in the green card issuance process.

"We are not sending cheap labour to the US. Our IT talent comprises of highly talented people. They cannot be replaced," Pai said.

The US has a skill gap with over 2 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs lying vacant, of which one million is in the IT sector, Nasscom president R Chandrasekhar told the Times of India.

If the new visa regulations come into force, the US tech industry will also be affected by the shortage of skilled professionals in the country. Tech firms in the US depend on the H-1B visas to hire tens of thousands of workforce each year from countries like India and China.

"All this goes to show the deep shortage of skilled professionals in the IT sector," says Pai, adding that not extending H-1B visas would hurt the US more.

Though the chances of IT professionals being deported en masse is a remote possibility, Pai recommends "wait and watch" approach. But even if they are deported, their return, he believes, will not impact company bottom lines negatively.

“The talent has valuable experience and companies will not let them go. The US companies hire Indian tech talent paying $125,000 to $150,000 per year. Why would they pay that kind of money to hire people from abroad if they could get this talent within? The US simply does not have the talent for the IT sector like India has," adds Pai.

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2018 14:32:04 IST

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