Ban Indian Companies from the H1B program

A recent IEEE report scrutinizes the Labor Condition Application (or LCA for short is a form that needs to be filed by a company wanting to hire foreign workers) to come to the conclusion that the H1B visa worker program has been exploited by various Indian companies.

The study cites an interview given by Vice President of Tata Consultancy Services Phiroz Vandrevala to Business World magazine in which he had said his company enjoys a competitive advantage because of its extensive use of foreign workers in the United States on H-1B and L-1 visas.

“Our wage per employee is 20-25 per cent lesser than US wage for a similar employee,” Vandrevala said. “Typically, for a TCS employee with five years experience, the annual cost to the company is $60,000-70,000, while a local American employee might cost $80,000-100,000.

While this acknowledgment by one of the big three in itself is shocking, many of us who have been working in the IT field for many years, both in India and in the US know that there are much bigger elephants in the room that no one is willing to acknowledge. The following points, in my view, make for a much bigger case of banning all Indian companies from the H1B and L1 visa program:

Resume embellishment: Embellishment might be a much milder term for what goes in many of these consultancy shops that get Indian IT workers on H1B visas. Resumes are bloated, many job experiences cited on the resume are more fictional than Sydney Sheldon’s novels and “a deep knowledge” of X technology often means flipping through “Teach yourself in 24 hours” books. There is also anecdotal evidence that many of these “consultants” have subject experts who answer client technical interviews over the phone, while the actual candidate is sitting thousand of miles away in India.

Hurting deserving candidates: Every year, the quotas for H1B visas fill up much ahead of time. I have personally seen many deserving candidates, who went to grad school in the US, ending up continuing to go to school, taking up yet another major or wasting their time at low level jobs at the universities, because the H1B visa quota ran out. This year, even the quota specially reserved for candidates with an advanced US degree was exhausted in a flash. One saving grace has been that the US Department of Labor has not budged from its requirement of getting an education from an accredited US university as a pre-condition to apply under this quota, despite all the pleas in various immigration forums that go something like “will an MCA + 5 years IT experience count as a US advanced degree?”

Creating an immigration backlog: During the Y2K years, everyone and his uncle who had the money to get a certificate from NIIT or Aptech managed to come to the US on an H1B visa. The lax rules of those days are coming home to roost for a lot of people who simply cannot understand as to why there is a big backlog of immigration visas. I don’t mind waiting in the line behind a guy who went to IIT Delhi and then wrote two IEEE published papers while finishing his MS in a year at Illinois. What I do mind is a person with a GNIIT degree, who came to the US in the Y2K rush eating up 5 immigration visas for his wife and 3 kids. While there is no doubt that the US immigration policy is deeply flawed, it is made worse by these cases.

Creating an H1B backlash: There were days when there were close to 200,000 H1B visas available each year. However, blatant exploitation of the program by Indian companies followed by a technical downturn led to the cap returning back to 65,000 per year. Now, with the Democrats and Republicans both posturing to claim the higher ground on immigration, there is a serious possibility of an even bigger backlash. As long as Indian companies continue to exploit the program, there will be studies like the one by IEEE, exposing those violations. In the long run, this will just give the H1B program a bad reputation and might lead to its revocation entirely.

In my opinion, the H1B visa program should only be open to students graduating from accredited US universities. There are plenty of students who have put in a few years of hard work and have bona fide academic credentials and don’t deserve to be left hanging in limbo because the H1B visa quotas are over. I don’t hold this view because I think that only students graduating from the US universities are smart or that they have a right to work in the US, but because this is the only way in which this blatant abuse of H1B visas by Indian off shoring companies can be stopped and deserving people can stop feeling like suckers.

As for the Indian companies, if they are willing to prove their mettle and willing to prove that they can compete on much more than cost alone, then they should not shy away from hiring people at prevailing wages graduating from the US universities.

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