HR & software destinations: The US: Still #1

Indian software professionals have looked at horizons beyond
India for wider experiences and better opportunities. The US has been the
hottest destination for these migrating minds. There are 250,000 Indian software
developers employed in the US–a fact well realized by the US congress. For the
second successive year, it has increased the number of H1B visas to be granted
to foreign professionals–from 115,000 in last year to 195,000 for each of the
next three years. With the second largest scientific, English-speaking manpower
base, India is expected to contribute nearly half of this requirement.

US’s
reign is now being challenged. Japan, France, Italy, Britain, New Zealand, South
Korea and Finland are all looking to hook Indian professionals. The competitive
threat among countries eager to hire foreign manpower, has forced them to offer
increasingly attractive packages.

New Zealand plans to recruit 200 experts from India using two
common reference points–cricket and the use of its locations for Bollywood
blockbusters. The appeal is a package that combines lifestyle and enjoyment.
Britain has adopted a more direct approach. The lord mayor of London, Clive
Martin, promoted the city with a USP of 393,000 Indian residents. Germany, in a
bid to recruit 3,000 Indian IT experts has come out with a green-card scheme.
German companies, desperate to fill the shortage of 75,000 IT experts, have been
promising delivery of Indian food everyday to the new recruits. With such
fanfare, does the US lose its magnetic pull?

Still favored

“Past trends show that the US has been the most
preferred destination for the Indian IT professionals,” says Nasscom. It
estimates that as many as 40,000 to 50,000 IT professionals are traveling to the
US and Europe every year. According to the US bureau of labor statistics,
US-based IT companies need to fill some 269,000 jobs. The potential for IT
professionals seeking jobs, is immense with the number of technological jobs
expected to expand from the current five million to six million by 2008.

The US has a vast domestic market driven by the world’s
largest hardware base that extends to a strong R&D program with governmental
funding, as per Nasscom. This market faces shortage of a skilled workforce that
is English speaking, innovative and uses state-of-the-art technologies. India,
with its human resource can address this problem.

So, the environment is inviting and Indian experts are right
for the job, but then why only the US? The dynamic nature of the US market, the
high level of computerization, the immense job opportunities and the cultural
and language familiarity make the US the first preference for Indian IT
professionals. According to R Vidyasagar, head, HR, i-flex solutions, “The
US offers a variety of jobs spanning different areas and skill sets.”

Savings also prove to be a destination-decider. “The
value of differential cost of savings is maximum in the US. The cost of living
is also fairly low as compared to other countries,” explains Ramanand
Baliga, GM, IBM Global Services.

Mere opportunities and incentives are not enough. For many
Indians, the desire to go to the US is based on their perceptions. Over the
years, the examples of Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail fame and Rajesh Jain of
IndiaWorld, have bred the belief that the US is the land where dreams come true.
Concurs Baliga; “One gets to read several stories of successful Indians in
the US.”

Compared to the US, other countries lose out on the
“desire” factor. Jatinder Kaur, deputy manager, visa-processing, SQL
Star reasons, “The offers coming in from these countries are less lucrative
compared to the ones offered by the US.” Take for example Germany. It threw
open its doors for Indians with the green-card scheme. After six months, there
are few takers for the German offer. One of the major drawbacks in the German
scheme is that unlike in the US work visas, the spouse of an Indian under the
green-card scheme of Germany would have to separately apply for visa. “Many
countries other than the US have stringent rules for visas and work
permits,” points out Nasscom.

Another factor is the experience that could be gained.
According to MM Mullick, head, IT recruitment, Noble & Hewitt, “For
professionals with an experience of zero to three years, the priority is to
migrate to the US where they can get the right exposure and then move on to
other countries.”

Then, there are country-specific issues. The racist groups’
resistance to the hiring of foreigners in Germany has undermined the security
for overseas workers. Japan and many European countries pose a language hurdle,
and South Korea is perceived as a closed society. “Countries that think
primarily about their own nationals and treat migrants as a different category
cannot offer opportunities,” opines Baliga.

Hitches and concerns

Will the US continue to hold its position, as the software
professional’s paradise in the future? There have been criticisms that the US
is exploiting the cheap Indian labor available. Though there are concerns that
this happens only in some cases, the exploitation of labor is an accepted fact.
Mullick says, "There is exploitation to a certain extent everywhere,
especially if a person is migrating through a body shopper. If a person is
recruited directly by a company, there is no exploitation per se."

Another issue is the fear of being regarded as an outsider
that haunts Indians abroad. H1B visa holders lose their status if they do not
stay with the same employer for five years. The US government’s policies do
little to dispel the fear. While on one hand, foreign professionals are being
welcomed; on the other hand, the US is gearing up to meet its requirements
indigenously. The US has, while increasing the number of visas to be issued,
also doubled the federal fees that companies pay for H1B visas–from $500 to
$1,000. This amount will be used to train and educate the Americans on the
expertise that is being hired. In the face of conscious efforts by other
countries to pull migrating Indian professionals away from the US, such issues
can prove to be an Achilles heel for the US.

Fresh opponents, growing dissatisfaction and national
aspirations are the challenges that lie ahead. The US has begun to address some
of the areas of concern. The new visa bill has a provision that allows H1B
workers to change jobs while in the US. This is hoped to improve the working
conditions and discourage exploitation of labor. Whether such measures will pay
dividends or not, remains to be seen. The US, meanwhile, retains its position as
the leading employer of Indian IT professionals alroad.

PRIYA SIVAKUMARAN
in New Delhi

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