Daily Management Review

As Trump Orders U.S. Visa Review, Indian Techies, IT Firms Fret


As Trump Orders U.S. Visa Review, Indian Techies, IT Firms Fret
President Donald Trump's review of the visa programme for bringing highly skilled workers into the United States comes at a bad time for Grishma, an Indian software designer.
She was well on her way to fulfilling the ambition of many young Indian IT workers - a dream job in America, fresh from gaining a master's degree in Europe, and with an offer of employment from a well-known U.S. design firm.
But she is caught in a bind, as she waits in the H-1B visa queue for the green light.
"It's a weird time to be applying, with all the scrutiny," said Grishma, who gave only her first name for fear of jeopardizing her chances of getting a visa.
The "expedited processing option" for applicants, under which she may have received a visa in weeks, has already been suspended by the United States. Grishma and many others like her have been unsettled by the uncertainty over the review announced this week.
She is not in a position to apply for positions elsewhere, including in Europe having accepted the U.S. job offer but she will have to wait until at least around August to learn her fate.
"It's pretty debilitating," Grishma told Reuters. "I'd like to start work to mitigate the financial damage."
Given his election campaign pledge to put American jobs first, Trump's decision was not a huge surprise.
Thousands of foreign workers already in the United States or applying for visas to work there have bene forced to re-think their plans by the executive order he signed, though vague in many areas. Also, facing huge uncertainty were companies who send them.
Using it to send computer engineers to service clients in the United States, their largest overseas market, Indian IT firms like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd are top beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme and hence the concerns are particularly acute in India.
Snagging around 86,000 H-1B visas, roughly equivalent to the number of H-1B visas the United States issues in total each year, were done by firms like TCS, Infosys and Wipro from 2005-14 and experts say Trump's order to review visa processes is aimed at such firms.
Down from 6,500 applications in 2016 and some 9,000 in 2015, Infosys, India's No. 2 information technology (IT) services company, is applying for just under 1,000 H-1B visas this year, two industry sources reportedly told Reuters.
Although the company has said for some time it wanted to cut dependence on "fly-in" staff, it was not clear whether the sharp reduction in 2017 was in direct response to Trump's presidency.
They would not share data on the number of H-1B visas they had applied for this year, TCS, Infosys and Wipro said.
For smaller IT companies and big U.S. tech companies, like Facebook and Microsoft Corp, that typically send in fewer H-1B applications each year, more such visas might become available with fewer visas going to Infosys.
Clients had been in contact seeking clarity, while the number of visa applicants had fallen, said U.S.-based immigration lawyer Murali Bashyam, managing partner of Bashyam Spiro LLP which advises and works with small to mid-sized Indian IT firms.
"I think the reason for that is they get the sense that it's going to get so much tougher to comply with all of the changes ... that it might not be worth their money," he said.
"There is a fear that radical immigration changes are coming, and if those radical immigration changes come then it could completely change the way IT staffing companies do business."
There has been a rise in the number of people considering returning to their home country who have been working on H-1B visas in the United States, Bashyam said.
Three months ago, he would not have considered returning to India, said an engineer working at Cisco, who has been in the United States since 2011.
But he would be forced to change his mind if the right for his wife to work in the United States on a dependent visa were revoked by the review of the visa system, and any rule that caused the change.
"If that happens, then I would definitely be interested in going back to India. Even though I'm secure, I don't want to be in a situation where my wife cannot work," said the engineer, who declined to be named.
"Those who have heavily invested here, who've bought houses, property and are still on visas, are afraid."