H1B visa norm changes: Indian IT professionals look at returning home

Many Indian IT professionals are still hopeful that the bills may not go through as it would impact the overall US market


Every year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues around 85,000 H1B visas, most of which are taken up by employees of major Indian tech firms. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Every year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues around 85,000 H1B visas, most of which are taken up by employees of major Indian tech firms. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Mumbai: Vikramaditya, a business system analyst working with a US-based information technology (IT) consulting firm, is worried if he will be able to renew his H1B visa next year. “I have been on H1B visa for the last two years. With all the changes proposed, I don’t know if my renewal would be accepted next year,” he said.

A few of his friends working on the same visa in the US are looking for options in other countries like Canada, Australia or even back in India, he said.

Earlier this month, three bills seeking to reform the H1B visa programme were tabled in the US. One of the key changes proposed includes doubling the minimum salaries of H1B visa holders to $130,000, a move that could possibly burn a hole in the pockets of many IT firms which use it to send thousands of professionals to the US each year.

Every year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues around 85,000 H1B visas, most of which are taken up by employees of major Indian tech firms.

Also read: Five charts which can help understand the H1B visa debate

While many Indian IT professionals are hopeful that the bills may not go through as it would impact the overall US market, few others said they are prepared to come back home if at all such a situation arises.

“We are on a wait-and-watch mode. We really don’t know if the bills will even go through. If it does, at the most we may be called back to work in India. I’m fine taking a slight pay cut and coming home,” said an IT analyst, who is currently working with a large Indian tech company in the US. He did not want to be identified.

Driven by such sentiments over the proposed changes in the H1B visa norms, several recruitment agencies in India said they were seeing an influx of job applications and queries from Indian professionals in the last few weeks.

“We are seeing a good number of people in the mid to senior level who want to move back to India or other regions in Asia. But these are mostly sentiment driven right now because we really don’t know how things would be implemented on ground,” said Anshul Lodha, associate director, Michael Page India, a search executive firm.

Similarly, other hiring firms, including ABC Consultants Pvt. Ltd and Antal India, said a significant number of IT professionals have reached out to them following US President Donald Trump’s new immigration policy, which included changes in the H1B visa norms.

“People are reaching out to us specially at the mid level to check if there are opportunities. Though there are no immediate threats, they are little worried and anxious about this call that has been taken,” said Ratna Gupta, cluster director, ABC Consultants.

Also read: Why the H1B visa policy is in the line of fire

According to Joseph Devasia, managing director of Antal India, small- to mid-sized Indian software companies which are “overly reliant on the US market and probably work on an 80-90% H1B strategy” will be affected the most. His agency has witnessed an almost 100% increase in job queries from Indians in the US in the last few weeks as compared to December.

Another managing director of an executive search firm, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said senior executives in the US are exploring assignments back home because of mounting uncertainties after Trump took office. “There was nothing like this before and now we see more and more executives writing to us for a replacement in India,” he said.

Many others also feel the change in the visa norms could further impact hiring of IT firms which have already started cutting down on their job intakes since the last couple of years due to slowdown as well as increasing shift to automation. It could even lead to change in their hiring strategies and they may end up looking to hire more local people overseas.

“US does not have sufficient skilled local talent and the IT companies will have to look at how to address this issue. The salary, in some instances, is as high as seven times than what is being paid now and all IT companies will take a hit on their bottom-line,” Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice president, TeamLease, a recruitment and staffing company.

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