As if increasing H-1B and L1 visa fees was not enough, US consulates have now intensified scrutiny of documents and are fishing for more details when processing visas of Indian techies, making it practically impossible for local information technology (IT) companies to get US work visas.
Recently, the US administration hiked H-1B and L-1 visa fees to Rs4,300 from Rs2,000. These visas are being used by the domestic tech companies to deploy Indian professionals on onsite jobs of their customers.
The visa problem is so grave that it became one of the main topics to be extensively discussed at HCL employee-management meeting in New Delhi on Monday.
“The US has come down drastically on the (number of) visas being issued,” acknowledged Vineet Nayar, chief executive officer of HCL Technologies, when an employee pointed out how lack of US visas was crippling its operations abroad.
“They are being unreasonable. But we can do nothing about it,” was his helpless response to employees at the Townhall meeting. Nayar took philosophical view on the issue and advised the employee to get around the problem.
“If there are no challenges, why do we need intelligent people,” he reasoned with the distraught employee.
Nayar said in such a situation, it would be best for Indian tech companies to go for local hiring in the US. He pointed out that some US states, especially in the mid-west, were offering such high subsidies that it was very alluring to hire local talent rather than send people from India. The company’s proportion of local hires for its US operations, he said, has leapt from around 8% to 30% in five years —slightly lower than 50% level fixed by the Obama government.
Som Mittal, president of National Association of Software Services Companies (Nasscom), agreed that scrutiny by the consulates across India had gone up.
“In some cases, the rules are not applied uniformly by US consulates in different cities. Also, sometimes information asked for are not relevant to the case. They are asking for more details than before. All these things are hampering free movement of skilled Indian IT professionals and are barriers to the trade,” he said.
The Nasscom chief said domestic tech industry body had taken up the matter with the various consulates as well as concerned authorities in the US.
Tighter visa norms had seen the rejection rate of US visas marginally shoot up at the mid-tier tech firm MindTree Ltd.
Though, that has not perturbed the company as it will not tweak its global delivery model, which hinges doing most of the work at the offshore centre in India.
“We do very little work onsite. Our onsite team consists mostly of front office staff, which interfaces with customers. For that, we are hiring more American citizens as they are more suitable for the job (of building relationship with US customers), said S Janakiraman, president and group chief executive officer, product engineering services, MindTree.
He said the company would maintain the current proportion of 10% onsite worker in the total headcounts.
An US Embassy official did not comment on whether US visa rules had become more difficult. He, however, said visas issued to Indian professionals had risen in the last fiscal — October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010.
As per the US Embassy data, more H-1B and L-1 visas were issued in India than in any other country last year.
The US mission in India issued 50.6% of the 1,10,388 H-1B visas issued globally at 55,886 visas and 44.7% of the 64,708 L-1 visas at 28,913 L-1 visas.
“India has realised tremendous benefits from globalisation. imilarly, India’s economic liberalisation has created significant economic opportunities for American businesses and workers.
The US government remains confident that our long-term economic partnership with India will continue to deepen and provide benefits for all segments of our societies,” said US Embassy official in response to DNA queries.