- Proposed changes in US' immigration policy include H-1B visas
- Changes to H-1B visas are "not a good thing for the US", say analysts
- India's IT sector uses H-1B visas to send highly-skilled workers to US
India and the United States share a strong economic relationship, and America's IT sector is fuelled largely by Indian IT professionals. In India, both industry experts as well as engineering students feel that changes to the H-1B visa will affect both countries. While Indian IT professionals and students alter their plans, America might have a lot more to lose.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, who have extended invitations to each other to visit their respective countries might be heading for a clash on the visa issue, say analysts.
India's IT outsourcing industry is worth around $108 billion, according to industry body NASSCOM, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, with almost four million people employed in the sector.
Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar said restrictions would create uncertainty and leave US businesses short of the skilled workers they need. "It's a myth that these workers replace American workers," he told news agency AFP.
"Given that there aren't enough people with the qualifications to fill these jobs, two things can happen -- these jobs can remain unfilled or companies can ship these jobs overseas. Neither is a good thing for the US."
India's IT sector has become a boom industry in recent years with companies, especially in developed nations, subcontracting work to firms such as TCS, taking advantage of the country's skilled English-speaking workforce.
It makes more than $60 billion alone from the American market, providing IT and engineering services to major US businesses, and helps US' IT sector maintain their lead when compared with their global counterparts.
The United States offers 85,000 H-1B visas every year, most of which are snapped up by Indian outsourcers whose employees fill a skill gap in US engineering. Applications are vastly oversubscribed and are allocated via a lottery system.
Industry experts say any clampdown would force Indian tech titans to radically rethink their business models.
"Indian IT firms may start focusing on Asia-Pacific and expand their businesses here instead of in the US," DD Mishra, an analyst at technology research company Gartner told AFP.
Infosys has said it is looking into reducing its dependency on visas to stay competitive, while worried software executives are due to travel to the US later this month to press their case with lawmakers.
"(Any) restriction is always a concern and we hope that the Trump administration will take into consideration all factors, before making any decision," he added.
A spokesman for India's external affairs ministry said earlier this week that New Delhi had conveyed India's "interests and concerns" to "senior levels" in the US administration and Congress.
STUDENTS PLAN DIFFERENTLY
Sunny Nair, an engineering student, has always dreamt of working for a technology giant in the United States but says that President Donald Trump's decision has compelled him to redraw his plans.
"I had always dreamt about going to the US and working for a major company like Infosys but now all that will change," 19-year-old Sunny Nair told news agency AFP before trudging into class.
The aspiring techie had planned to head to the United States for further study next year after completing his bachelor's degree in engineering at the Don Bosco Institute of Technology in Mumbai. He hoped that would help land him the opportunity of a lifetime at one of India's top information technology exporting firms, such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) or Wipro. But President Trump has pledged to prioritise jobs for Americans. White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested that presidential and congressional action could be taken on H-1B visas as "part of a larger immigration reform effort".
Three bills have been introduced to Congress which reportedly seek to restructure the H-1B visa programme, including one that would raise the salary threshold, making it more expensive for Indian firms to send employees to America.
Scores of high-profile Indians, including Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, have followed a well-trodden path from Indian IT institutes to a master's degree in America before landing a job in Silicon Valley.
Mr Nair is now anxiously plotting a different road map for his future.
"(Restrictions)... would be a major negative decision by Donald Trump... so my goals have shifted drastically now. I am looking at other venues for my future studies, like Canada and Europe instead of USA," he said.
(with inputs from AFP)