BANGALORE: A chasm of mistrust separates American and Indian technology companies as the US attempts immigration reform which could have far-reaching effects on the software industry.
Executives at Indian software outsourcing firms are dismayed that US-based companies are using their clout back home to push for visa rules which will make it harder and costlier for firms such as Infosys, TCS or Wipro to send professionals to work on US assignments.
Representatives from both Indian and US companies are part of the top decision-making body of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (Nasscom), which represents the $108-billion (Rs 5.9 lakh crore) Indian IT industry. The problem is that Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Microsoft and Cisco are also part of the US-based industry body Compete America, which supports restrictive measures that target Indian IT companies.
Although the feeling that the cohabitation is uncomfortable is widespread, no Indian organisation wants to provoke an open confrontation by publicly speaking out on the issue. India exported software worth $46 billion to the US in 2012-13.
“It is true they (foreign multinationals) are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds,” a senior industry executive and a past member of Nasscom’s executive council told ET. “The divergence in interests has there been in the past, but never so stark.”
The immigration overhaul is straining Indo-US relations, with veiled warnings of consequences if the US puts in place curbs against Indian IT firms.
The bipartisan immigration bill, whose unveiling has been delayed by the Boston bomb attacks, is said to contain measures that will limit the number of H-1B short-term visas Indian companies can obtain and also mandate higher wages for employees on such visas.
Neither Compete America nor Accenture, HP, Microsoft or Google replied to emails seeking views for this report.
The visa squeeze, if it comes about, will happen at a difficult time for Indian software companies that are still struggling to recover from the effects of the global economic slowdown. It will also happen in the backdrop of a strained economic relationship with the US.
Indian software executives readily admit that US-based companies on Nasscom link the visa issue to the problems being faced by American multinationals across sectors in India.
“There is no denying that there is a conflict of interest,” said a member of the Nasscom executive council. “But ‘bhaichara’ (brotherhood) among individual members precludes the possibility of addressing such serious issues in a professional manner.”
Compete America’s attempt to distance itself from outsourcing companies, including Indian IT companies portrayed as ‘abusing’ the H-1B visa programme by bringing in temporary workers, is not accurate, according to experts. Norman Matloff, who teaches computer science at the University of California, Davis, told ET in an email that targeting Indian companies “amounts to unwarranted scapegoating.”
“It is based on the false premise that the Indian firms are the only, or the main, ones to abuse the foreign worker programmes,” Matloff said.
Nasscom president Som Mittal said it was too early to comment on the conflict of interest.
“If Compete America is supporting restrictions on Indian IT companies, then it is shortsighted,” he said. “Corporations realise that these are thin lines to walk on and will undermine their credibility if they are seen as lobbying for vested interests and not for wider industry demands.”
Some senior industry executives, such as former Infosys human resources head TV Mohandas Pai, said they were not surprised at overseas multinationals looking out for their own interests whichever country they are in, using whatever means they have.
“It may be unrealistic to expect a global corporation like Google to support the Indian cause in the US,” he remarked.