IT majors got fewer H-1B visas approvals in ’07

19 Mar, 2008, 0106 hrs IST,Deepshikha Monga, TNNVIA THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEW DELHI: While the debate over Indian outsourcing firms making the most of H-1B visas rages on, Indian firms’ share of the temporary worker visas has actually come down by over 8,500.

Leading Indian IT companies Infosys, Wipro, TCS and Satyam received fewer H-1B approvals in 2007, as compared to 2006. For instance, top-ranked H-1B user Infosys got 4,559 visas for the financial year 2007 starting October 2007, against 4,908 in 2006. Similarly, Wipro, which got 4002 visas in 2006, received 2,567 visas in 2007.

While Satyam got 1,396 approvals in 2007, against 2,880 in 2006, TCS got 797 approvals in 2007, a drastic drop from 3,046 in 2006.

Allegations of foreign companies, especially Indian, using H-1B visas to replace qualified American workers surfaced last year when senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin wrote to nine Indian IT companies, among the top 20 H-1B users in 2006 that accounted for 19,512 visas, 30% of the total 65,000 workers’ visas.

The senators questioned these companies on their usage of these visas and lay-offs in the US. The same companies, of which six now figure in the top 20 users for fiscal 2007, got about 10,927 visas, a drop of 8,585 over 2006.

It’s not that Indian companies are taking fewer workers abroad, usually for onsite deployment at the clients’ offices. Industry players claim they were unable to get more visas as more companies tried to stake their claim to the limited H-1B visas. Pro-H1B executives like Bill Gates have urged the US government to increase the cap on the visas.

Microsoft was the fifth-most active user in 2007, with 959 H-1B approvals to its name. Mr Gates has urged the US Congress to increase the visa cap, citing his own company’s inability to hire as many foreign workers as it wanted to. “Last year, for example, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the highly qualified foreign-born job candidates that we wanted to hire,” he said.

The top H-1B users in 2007, in the order of usage, were Infosys, Wipro, Satyam, Cognizant (962), Microsoft, TCS, Patni (477), US Technology Resources (416), i-flex (374) and Intel (369). Of these, six including i-flex, which is based in India but owned by Oracle, are Indian firms.

In 2006, seven firms figured in the top 10, L&T Infotech didn’t make it to the list in 2007. Nasscom said the issue was not job loss by Americans but about skill loss occurring due to foreign workers going back to their respective countries after enhancing their skills in the US. “There is a technical skill shortage in the US,” said Nasscom president Som Mittal.

Meanwhile, Mr Grassley has recently asked the US Homeland Security department as to the moves taken to reform the visa programme, which he said is being abused by foreign companies that bring in idle workers to the US and ‘lease’ them to other firms.

Counters a senior executive at an Indian IT firm, “People are not looking at the contribution of these H-1B workers at the technology level. The big picture is that we are working in a borderless world and people have to live with that.”

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