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Why the US and the world are turning hostile to Indian workers

NEW DELHI: Increasingly, the world wants to shut the door on Indian professionals, especially the tech workers, who want to work in foreign countries. From today, the US has tightened the process to award H1-B visas. Given to highly skilled professionals to work in the US, the H1-B visas fuelled the growth of India’s information technology companies over more than a decade. Now the visas will turn precious, with unprecedented scrutiny and zero tolerance for even minor errors. In addition to this, all visa applicants will be subjected to extreme social-media vetting.

Earlier in March, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services had announced that it would temporarily suspend the premium processing for the H-1B visa. The Donald Trump administration recently announced a new measure, making the approval of H-1B visa tougher. Any company will have to make one more clarification to prove that its H-1B employee at a third-party worksite has specific and non-qualifying speculative assignments in a speciality occupation.

As the globalisation project shrivels due to protectionist tendencies emerging across the world in developed economies, the future abroad for highly skilled Indians is likely to turn bleak.

The US is not the only country averse to Indian tech workers. The UK too had revised its immigration laws. In November 2016, the UK announced its new visa rules which set a higher salary threshold for anyone applying under the Tier 2 intra-company transfer (ICT) category under which Indian tech companies take their workers to the UK. The anxieties over highly skilled foreign workers express in a variety of ways. Last month, a group of highly skilled Migrants, which represents nearly 1,000 doctors, engineers, IT professionals and teachers from countries outside the European Union (EU), protested against UK Home Office delays and unjustified refusals related to their applications for indefinite leave to remain in Britain.

Indian students once flocked to the UK but now the number has been going down due to concerns over Brexit and protectionist policies. December 2017 statistics for international students from the UK Council for International Student Affairs showed Indian students to the country fell a whopping 44% in the last five years. Despite the blip of a 10% increase in visas to Indian students in the year ending September 2017 from a year ago, the declining numbers is still causing concern. The increase in 2017 to 14,081, was the first time the figures rose since 2010, when 60,000 Indian students got visas. Strict student immigration laws since 2011 have seen Indian students looking to other destinations for higher education. The political uncertainty regarding Brexit bolsters the sentiment.

Recently, the Australian government blocked the most popular route Indians took to Australia — the subclass 457 visa category for skilled overseas workers. Instead, a new Temporary Skill Shortage visa has been introduced from March 18. The abolished visa was a big attraction for Indians who wanted to work in Australia. Of the 90,000-odd holders of this type of visa, 22% were Indians. New visa norms are restrictive and would certainly make it difficult for Indians to find work in Australia. Earlier, New Zealand, another popular destination for Indians looking to work abroad, and Singapore tightened its visa rules.

The visa restrictions will hit career dreams of a large number of Indians. There was a time in India when studying abroad was considered a mark of privilege. But rise of the middle class in has turned that privilege into a common aspiration. More and more parents now want their children to study abroad. The number of Indian parents wanting their children to study abroad jumped from 47% in 2016 to 62% in 2017, according to an HSBC report on education. A world becoming increasingly hostile to Indian workers means the road ahead for these aspirational young Indians is hard.

Indian parents’ top three university destinations for their children are the USA, Australia and the UK — the very countries now trying to block immigrant workers.

Though local economic pressures, rising unemployment and cultural issues related to immigrants have led developed countries to tighten visa norms, one reason is perception of Indian professionals as a threat to local jobs.

The world is increasingly resisting Indian tech workers whose hard work for frugal salaries has become a legend. It’s a bit of a stretch to see the Indian techies as the new imperialists, but the fear they evoke in the west might be based on what happened nearly a century ago.

With the industrial revolution in the west, India became a big importer of textiles from being a leader in textile exports in a matter of decades — due to cheap mass-manufacture technology. England’s cheap machine-made textile goods ruined India’s superior but costlier textile industry and a sophisticated banking system that financed it.

Indian tech companies are the new textile mills of Manchester and Lancashire, churning out cheap services with which the local IT services industry in the US cannot compete. While the English mills had a free run in absence of any tariff barriers in India, Indian tech companies face growing restrictions.

Now, Indian IT companies are seeking to overcome the visa-related challenges by setting up new centres in the US, a market that accounts for about 60 per cent of India’s IT export basket. Infosys plans to set up four technology and innovation hubs in the US and hire about 10,000 locals there. Wipro has set up a technology centre in Plano, Texas, and plans to ramp up its headcount in the American state to 2,000 over the next few years.

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