Adapt & survive

A US immigration visa that allows American companies to hire highly skilled foreign workers, in case US workers are not available for specialised jobs, is now being tweaked. President Donald Trump has acted on his electoral promises to target the H-1B visas, which have been widely used by Indian technical workers to work in the US. It will not be an exaggeration to say that this visa has been the backbone of the IT influx from India to the US.

The programme also found support from various corporations and Silicon Valley companies that used it extensively. Along the way, inevitably, came some abuses, and often it became a tool that allowed US companies to hire foreigners ready to work for less. This, combined with a general rise in unemployment, has led to a populist backlash that fuelled the Trump campaign rhetoric.

The H-1B visa system, however, has been especially beneficial for the US IT industry, and even the outsourcing aspects that rile some voters find votaries in the business community. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services recently issued advisories that ratchet up the requirements for issuing these visas.  Thus workers at the bottom end of the pool, basically computer programmers, are now not considered eligible. It has also undertaken a slew of measures, including workplace inspections, which would keep a check on such workers.

Presidential fiats have a limited validity. Other than optics and buzz, it is not clear how much Mr Trump will achieve — or, wants to achieve. The processing of this year’s visa applications is already under way, and there are bound to be various challenges in implementation. Real reforms, if any, will have to be routed through the Congress.

The Indian IT industry, will, no doubt, have to relook at the changes that take place in the US and adapt accordingly. On the whole, there is little doubt about its ability to be able to do so. Even though the process could be painful, it would force Indian companies to move up the food chain, away from the low-hanging fruit.


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