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Rediff.com  » Business » India Inc's H-1B concerns misplaced: Indian origin tech billionaire

India Inc's H-1B concerns misplaced: Indian origin tech billionaire

May 24, 2013 16:16 IST

Billionaire entrepreneur and Silicon Valley IT heavyweight, Romesh T Wadhwani, has said Indian companies ‘whining’ about the new immigration bill’s restrictions is totally misplaced.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff, Wadhwani, founder and chairman of Symphony Technology Group - a private equity firm based in Palo Alto, California, said there’s no reason for just four to five Indian IT giants to continuing grabbing a lion’s share of H-1B visas year after year.

Symphony Technology Group has over a dozen software and software services companies under its umbrella, employing over 15,000 people, and doing more than $3 billion in business each year.

Asked about the new immigration bill’s provisions that would essentially give green cards to PhDs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and restriction on the number of H-1B visa holders a company could employ, Wadhwani said, “I would separate the two issues because to me there is a lot of confusion about them.”

“I feel that STEM graduates who meet a certain minimum threshold of academic achievement should be given green cards or at least a pathway to a green card, and then to citizenship. So long as the academic achievement is good and they are in one of those disciplines, there is a decent chance that they might start a company and create jobs. Even if they don’t turn out to be entrepreneurs, they will be high value employees of some existing US company.”

Wadhwani noted, “H-1B visas for me fall in a different category, and obviously the objective here is not to second guess what Congress is doing because this is a very difficult issue.”

“People in India can’t take it personally because it is not the only country affected by the immigration reform,” he said.

“Of all countries, the US is most affected by the immigration reform. In the end whatever goes through Congress is going to be a compromise, no one is going to like it perfectly. But you know that’s what compromises are.”

Wadhwani argued, “I don’t think it is reasonable for the Indian IT companies to complain about new H-1B visa norms. Of the 65,000 H-1B issued every year, Indian IT companies get 50, 60, or even 70 per cent of these.”

“Why just five companies across the entire world should get 60 per cent of the H-1B visas?” he questioned. “Those kinds of complaints are unreasonable because there immigration policy cannot be done for the benefit of the five largest Indian IT companies,” he asserted.

“Let’s look at it differently, if the government had said, one, let’s increase the number of H-1B visas, and two, let’s agree that no one company can receive more than ‘x’ number of visas, let’s say 1, 000 just to pick a number, who could argue, because all the Indian IT companies will get 1,000, so that’s 10,000, there is still 55,000 available. The H-1B visas are being increased from 65,000 to 150,000 or 200,000, and there will be plenty of room for everyone. No one will be disappointed,” Wadhwani said.

He noted, “The disappointment is coming from the fact that certain companies want to place 10,000 people on H-1B visas and that is not fair to others, and that’s why it’s not getting Congress’ support.”

“This is really an issue of a few large IT outsourcing companies,” he reiterated, and advised, “In their own best interests they should not try to monopolise the H-1B system because then such policy reaction is inevitable.”

“On the other hand if they say, you know what we will agree voluntarily for a cap of 1,000 or 2,000 employees per company, and let others get their fair share, there would be complete support for the program,” suggested Wadhwani.

“By the way, Indian companies would be the beneficiary of the new policy as they would be forced to hire more people in the US, and this move would replace the H-1B program thereby getting a positive reaction in Congress,” he predicted.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC