India’s software service companies have come a long way since the 1980s when a few body shoppers first emerged on the scene. Back then, the big challenge these body shoppers faced was on the visa front.
In the 2000s, Indian software service firms moved to the global delivery model where customers in the US or elsewhere would outsource work to India. But some part of the work would still have to be done onsite, which meant shipping techies. The big challenge these companies faced was again on the visa front.
A decade later, India’s software service firms are renowned across the world for their technical expertise. Their portfolio of offerings has increased and even includes technical consulting. Their business is complex and sophisticated. Yet, ironically, the big challenge these companies face is again on the visa front.
Recent events in the US, including a comment by a senator that Infosys is a “chop shop”, need to be seen in this context. The benefits of outsourcing are well known and India’s software lobby has publicized them further, so this newspaper will not attempt a defence of Indian IT.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Instead, it will try to look at what Indian software service firms need to do. The CEO of a large Indian IT firm based in Bangalore believes that part of the answer may be in hiring people within the US. But he admits that this isn’t the entire solution. Unlike Indian techies who move around the world, many of these local hires aren’t “fungible”.
The CEO of another large Indian IT firm, also based in Bangalore, says there is another problem with this model. He insists that it is often necessary for people working on projects to meet the customers, necessitating travel. But he believes Indian firms can reduce this by hiring strategically in other centres. The preferred ratio, according to him, is 15:85 (15% of the total workforce elsewhere and 85% in India). For his company, he admitted, the proportion is 5:95. Techies would still need to travel, but Indian IT firms can steer clear of the H-1B visa trouble using a route that, interestingly, involves another type of visa.
According to the second CEO, tech workers could be given a new type of visa. Currently, Indian IT firms use H-1B visas that allow workers to stay up to six years in the US. As they move towards the 15:85 split, they will need fewer workers to travel for shorter durations. And a new type of visa could well do the trick.
What can solve Indian IT’s visa troubles? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org