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Weak US economy to hit visas: Wipro

Fakir Chand in Bangalore | July 18, 2003 18:39 IST

The Indian software sector is apprehensive that the continued uncertainty in the United States economy may force the Bush Administration to restrict the issue of visas to its techies for onsite operations.

Sharing the concerns of the infotech industry, Wipro vice chairman Vivek Paul told rediff.com in Bangalore on Friday that there was a possibility of a weak US economy forcing the authorities to restrict the issue of H1-B and L1 visas to Indian IT professionals in a bid to check job loss among the locals.

"There is a lot of uncertainty on the state of US economy right now. In a weak economy, the anti-immigration lobbies may even succeed in getting a regulatory stopper on the number of visas being issued to our software engineers," Paul affirmed.

Allaying fears of any immediate impact on the Indian global IT majors, which have high stakes in the US tech market, Paul said in a democracy, it was only natural that such noises would be made.

"Growing unemployment, tech meltdown and sluggish economy are putting pressure on the US authorities to do something for an upturn. The reality is there is democracy in the US and many will express reservations on visas being issued to Indians or other nationals," he said.

"Therefore, the challenge before the Indian IT industry is how to ensure that there would not be a regulatory action on issuing visas to our employees who have to be in the US for executing projects or expand business," Paul stated.

Though there are signs of revival, a lot still depends on the health of the US economy in the run-up to the presidential elections next year.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies, the Indian IT industry's representative body, is already on the job to educate the US political leadership, the anti-India lobbies and the lawmakers on the advantages of outsourcing and allowing our techies to add value to their enterprises.

"As a major player in the US market, with 65 percent of our total IT revenues generating from North America, Wipro has been talking to its customers, industry associations and opinion makers on how their firms stand to save money by outsourcing, become competitive and able to hire more people to consolidate their business," Paul declared.

Heading Wipro Technologies as its chief executive officer and based in the US, Paul is a member of the Board of the California Chamber of Commerce, and a charter member of The IndUS Entrepreneurs.

To prevent any backlash against the company, Wipro has been consciously hiring local Americans or other nationals wherever required for its US and European operations.

"For instance, when we acquired AMS, the US-based energy and utilities firm, we had retained a majority of its existing employees who are more than our own Indian counterparts," Paul recalled.

As reported earlier, US Congressman Tom Tancredo, a prominent anti-immigration law maker, last week introduced in the Congress a bill to abolish H1-B visas to skilled Indian professionals taking up jobs at the expense of the local talent.

Though resisted by the US hi-tech firms and industry associations, the proposed amendment seeks to scale down the number of H1-B visas to less than 100,000 from the current peak of 200,000 per annum.

Tancredo's bill, when enacted, will have a harmful effect on the operations of many Indian IT firms, which have a major presence in the US tech market, providing software services and products to even Fortune 500 enterprises.

According to Nasscom sources, Indian software engineers accounted for only 33,000 H1-B visas last year as against a high of 77,000 visas in 2001.

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