American Consular Officer: "How do we know you'll come back to India?"
Student: "Sir, my roots are here - my family, my property, my business... I want to study in America, but I will come back and put my education to good use."
Hundreds and thousands of Indian students have given this earnest answer at their visa interview. A significant number never return. You have to wonder - why bother to ask? Because the idea of America, to a large extent, is to attract the brightest and the best from around the world.
But I guess can't give out the impression yahan visa party chal rahi hai -'everyone's invited'. We don't really want your tired, huddled and poor. That's so last century.
So both sides play out the charade but the visa officer knows there's a 95% chance the guy on full scholarship to Stanford is unlikely to return anytime soon. That in a couple of years his parents will be applying for 10 year multiple entry visas instead.
The H 1 B tangle
Of course, getting a job after a Bachelor's, or Master's in the US is apparently not a cakewalk. An employer needs to prove there is no American citizen or permanent resident skilled for enough to take on that particular job, in order to sponsor your visa. The company must want you pretty badly to go to that much trouble.
With Indian IT companies cornering more and more H1B visas in recent years, things seem to be getting tougher.
Businessweek reports: When Abhishek Sehgal came to the U.S. to pursue an MBA at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, he expected to get some work experience in the country. But the second-year MBA student from India didn't anticipate it would be so difficult to get a visa to work after graduation.
Citigroup (C), the 28-year-old's future employer, submitted his H-1B visa application on Apr. 2, the first day petitions were accepted. But the pool of applicants was already oversubscribed, and Sehgal's application wasn't chosen in a random computer selection.
Abhishek has a few options. After completing his degree requirements, he can try his luck in a visa pool for candidates with Master's degrees. That's 20,000 visas above and beyond the H1B - for students who've completed advanced degrees in the US. Citi could also take him for a one-year "practical training" under his student visa and he can reapply for an H1B next year.
Sehgal is one of many international MBA candidates who's caught in a visa bind. With only 65,000 H-1B visas available for professional-level workers across all sectors for the 2008 fiscal year, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services received 123,480 eligible applications on Apr. 2 and Apr. 3. After a computer lottery, about half the applicants were rejected.
The H1 B issue also affects another student group- the ones who've studied in India but secured the much hyped 'foreign placement'.
So even as the papers went gaga over the Lime group picking up IIT grads for $90,000 a year, the reality is that some of those who got the job never made it to New York. They did not get an H1 B visa.
Says one affected student: "Microsoft hired for US positions (at IIT) and then almost simply dropped their new hires because of the H1b mess (did not even give India positions), Merril Lynch took people to UK, same with Deutsche Bank, Capital One kept few people in India and moved rest to England and Canada.
LimeWire opened an India office. This year also many companies are in trouble including Bloomberg".
Not that working in India or Europe isn't a good experience. But the free flow of labour - at both lower and higher end of the job spectrum - remains more of a dream than tangible reality.
The Change Ahead
But thinking Americans are worried - talent migrating elsewhere to work and study may affect the land built on Immigrant Energy in the long run. Reforms are now being considered.
A new proposal - the Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act - introduced by Senators Chuck Hagel (Republican) and Joseph Lieberman (Democrat). This act seeks to raise the existing cap on H1B visas to 115,000 and go upto 180,000 in years to come.
More importantly, the proposal seeks to allow a limitless number of H1B visas and green cards for foreigners with master's degrees or higher in any field from an American university. Or for anyone with such credentials in maths, science, technology or engineering from abroad.
This news was gleefully highlighted on page one of the Times of India late last week. They may as well have headlined it 'Chalo America'! Aapka bachpan ka sapna ab poora ho sakta hai.
Will the bill actually get passed? I am doubtful.
Because however attractive the proposal may be to industry and acadmia, there is a strong possibility of a backlash from the average American. When you let more immigrants in - using the 'talent' argument - there is a natural fear that 'my job could be at risk'.
The new guys may not be attractive only for their skills...
A December 2005 study by the Centre for Immigration Studies (CIS) found that 85% of those working in the US on H1B visas get paid less than US workers in the same occupation and state. $13,000 less, on average. This is against the law.
The study found that 36% of all H1B visas were issued to Indians, and occupation wise computer professionals dominate (25% of visas).
Based on this report, 9 Indian companies have been asked to provide details of how they use the H1 B. As Shubham Singhal notes in his blog, there is definitely some gochi. He writes:
Last year Infosys requested 22,590 H1b visas. Infosys has a total strength of around 70,000. Is it sending more than 25% of its employees overseas? I don't think so.
Moreover Infosys generally sends people overseas who stick with the company for sometime and hence L1 visa is suited for them. Then why do they want H1b?s? Plus let me add that they also have H1b visa holders from previous years. Have all these people left? I think this is just a pure misuse of the visa program.
Now, one may argue, as Basab Pradhan does, that for IT companies whose revenues come chiefly from the US, H1-B visas are like 'raw material'. "If they don’t have them they can’t start projects and this impacts revenue immediately"
Anil comments, in response: Wipro are trying to retain staff. I just came to know from an insider that Wipro has filed H1 B visas for all their employees in a particular practice (for which the count runs in hundreds) for a specific project even though the requirement is only for 2 persons. And those 2 persons are already in US under L1.
Cynical but could be true, because the chief carrot for IT staffers remains "foreign jaane ko milega".
There's so much desperation in this community for H1Bs that a desi consultants racket has apparently sprung up. Brijesh has an insightful post on his blog where he details how all it takes is $4000. These guys will create a fake resume loaded with work ex, fake job, fake paycheque - the works.
Within the first 5 minutes he will ask you this question “How old are you?” Why? The older you are the more experience they can show in the fake resume they prepare. My wife is 25 years old and many desi consultants are ready to hire her. When we told them that she doesn’t have any experience in the IT field this is what one of the consultant told us:
”Any year you lived after the age of 18 can be converted to relevant experience by making a fake resume. So to apply for H1B you need to be only 23 years. Any one above 23 years can easily get a H1B visa”.
Many of these consultants are frauds, making them no different from the agents who promise labourers jobs in theGulf or middlemen who weave dreams of a safe passage to Greece to the youth of Punjab. And now, our 'honourable' MPs as well...
Education is no barrier to being conned. The dreams are the same - only the sales pitch and the spit n polish different.
The Bitter Truth
The Americans are hotly debating the issue here . One gentleman argues: "Labor is work, not product, and if you are going to stand up and tell the US government you cannot possibly find a US Employee to do the job, and must bring in someone from another country to do it, you should be paying an abjectly high premium".
He adds: Look, here is EXACTLY how H1B works the vast majority of the time, and I know this because I’ve been in the meetings where the decisions were being made to do it! List for a job posting offering 50-80% of the market rate for the skill set you need... of course you can’t find anyone with decent skills to take the job.. so you then hire someone H1B and pay them 50-80% of what you should be paying.
You weren’t in a situation where you couldn’t find an american to do the job, you set up a situation where you couldn’t find an american to do the job for WHAT YOU WANTED TO PAY... not that there was no american who could do it... so instead of the company being forced to simply adjust to market situations, you give them a trump card to avoid the market forces, using government interference.
That’s all you have going on with H1B... its a COMPLETE and total scam, its a short circuit of the market, and to argue its “free market” is repugnant.
Well it may be repugnant but that is life. Skills are important but immigrant labour is attractive because it is willing to work for less. And longer and harder hours, as well
This holds true whether it's a Mexican restaurant worker, a Pakistani cab driver or an Indian IT engineer. Or the Biharis and UPites who stream in to Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Not to forget the Bangladeshis who simply jump our border - no passport, no visa.
No quick and easy solutions here.. the debate continues!
Migration : you can't stop it! - part 1