People queue to get a visa at the Consulate of the United States in Paris. (Photographer: Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg News)

H-1B Workers Will Be In Demand As Long As Skills Gap Exists, Says Nasscom

The U.S. administration’s tighter norms, including curbs on non-immigrant H-1B visas, are part of a political rhetoric and the focus should instead be on bridging the skills’ gap.

That’s the word from Shivendra Singh, vice president-global trade development at Nasscom. “Till the time the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skills’ gap exists, these people will be required to fill the gap,” Singh told BloombergQuint in an interview.

You have data including from the American Department of Labor which talks about the fact that H-1Bs get equal if not more salaries than local American hires. It is more about the STEM skills gap which needs to be bridged.
Shivendra Singh, VP-Global Trade Development, Nasscom

The process of filing petitions for H-1B, considered the most sought-after work visa, began today amidst unprecedented scrutiny by the Trump administration. IT companies globally depend on the visa to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Watch the full conversation here:

Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation:

What is Nasscom’s view on the tighter norms for H-1B visas?

If you look at it individually, then they’re not all that big, but collectively, we’ve seen a number of moves in terms of executive orders right from March 31, 2017 where computer programmers were not automatically qualified as specialty occupation. And it goes on with ‘buy American, hire American’ executive order, changes proposed to the labour condition applications, then changes proposed on H-1B in terms of eligibility, employee-employer relationship, wage levels, and also pouse visa. Taken together, all these constant changes are not good for the business and that’s where the challenge lies.

Are you planning to lobby hard against this? We are hearing that there will be very little tolerance even for minor errors in visa processing. Is that a concern?

The Indian IT industry is a net creator of jobs in the U.S. and has supported more than one lakh direct jobs and is giving a lot of value to the U.S. economy. That is more than 75 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. In terms of the number of H-1Bs which Indian companies hire, where essentially I’m looking at the top 7 companies that accumulate more than 90 percent of visas, is less than 10,000 which is hardly 13 percent of the visa cap of 65,000. But Indian nationals get 70 percent of the visas which means that they are going to American companies or non-Indian companies.

It is a strong testimony of the fact that Indian nationals have relevant STEM skills, so they are in demand globally. Till the time the STEM skills’ gap exists, these people would be required to fill in the gap. Once there is no gap, the problem will get sorted out. It is not cheap labour. You have data including from the American Department of Labor which talks about the fact that H-1Bs get equal, if not more salaries than local American hires. It is more about the STEM skills gap which needs to be bridged.

One of the biggest challenges is that unskilled migration gets clubbed with skilled migration. In this case it is not migration but high skill worker mobility for qualified people to go, complete projects and then move to different parts of the world. That kind of misconception needs to be clarified. It is more of a political rhetoric rather than an economic rhetoric. And that needs to be clarified.

Do you see any material impact to Indian companies by virtue of this move?

Even in 2014, the numbers were relatively smaller than what it was earlier. That was much before the U.S. President Donald Trump came into power. So, it is not at all linked to anything specific. Business models change. As you see more digital disruptions, big data cloud, robotics, AI, you will see changes where a lot of companies will have to put resources near shore, on shore and you will see lot of local hiring happening. It is very much the demand of business and that’s how companies will go by.

Are there any conversations going on at the Nasscom or government level with the U.S. in terms of relaxing any of these visa norms?

Conversations at the government to government level continue to happen. As far as we are concerned at Nasscom, we continue to brief the government on any issue, concern or challenge, good news and they have been extremely supportive to the issue of IT industry because it concerns $126 billion export market, 60 percent being the U.S. market. We continue to talk directly to the administration and the legislative side in the U.S. and other stakeholders.

Highlighting the value which the Indian industry is bringing, Infosys announced 10,000 jobs in Indiana and North Carolina, Wipro has announced 3,000 jobs. If Cognizant is spending money on STEM skills, and TCS is donating $35 million to Carnegie Mellon, these comprise key contributions which are important the the U.S. economy. It is imperative that a level playing field is provided to our member companies to operate and add value to the economy. We ensure that there are no discriminatory measures, and all companies are impacted in the line in case of any decision being taken, either administratively or legislatively.