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Will ensure H-1B reforms don’t hinder India’s IT sector: NASSCOM

Ever since talk of possible reforms in H1-B visas led by US President Donald Trump, there has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Indian IT sector. However, NASSCOM’s President, R Chandrashekhar, reassured that he will consult the US government and its embassy in India, to ensure that the industry does not face any difficulty or hindrance in its work.

“We will, on our part, continue to engage, not only with the US government, but also the US embassy in India to ensure that there is no hindrance or difficulty for the industry to get the processes in shape,” said Chandrashekhar.

The US has announced that from April 3, it would temporarily suspend the ‘premium processing’ of H-1B visas that allowed some companies to jump the queue, as part of overall efforts to clear the backlog.

This will lead to process delays for Indian IT firms.

Chandrashekhar said that this will have some business implications. However he felt that the move will not be a significant impediment for the over USD 110 billion outsourcing industry.

Below is the verbatim transcript of R Chandrashekhar’s interview to Kritika Saxena on CNBC-TV18.

Q: I am going to begin by asking you, you have just returned take us to the salient features of the conversation you had, you have already met officials from the Trump administration. I believe that you have met legal officials as well, so give us a sense of the conversation that you have had so far?

A: I think basically our effort was in the discussions with representatives from the Congress, representative from the administration, interaction with the governors and various other officials in different arms of the government – so our effort was to actually make them more aware of the benefits that the visa programme brings. The kind of work that is done by Indian companies in the US, why it matters to them as much as to us and in light of number of restrictive measures that are on the anvil, what are the issues that need to be kept in mind while moving forward with any proposals.

Q: For instance what were the issues that you brought to light?

A: I think that the main issue is that as far as any measures with regard to the visas are concerned, while we respect the views of the government and the administration and the need to protect American workers. I think the question is that any measures that are brought in need to be applicable across all companies – so that the protection offer to workers is real and the second is that there is a level playing field.

Q: You mean not just Indian IT companies, but also the US IT companies?

A: Exactly, it should be applicable to all – so that on the one hand the protection offered to the American jobseekers is real and on the other hand there is a level playing field, which is important for the ease of doing business in a country.

The other thing is that the popular misperception in the US that this industry takes away jobs from the US is very far from the truth and the reality is that this industry has been, and is and will be creating jobs in the US many, many more jobs and in fact the rate of growth is far higher than the rate of growth of jobs in the rest of the US economy. More than a 150,000 jobs already created, a growth of 10 percent and so on. And besides the industry provides skills which is a gap area in the US, which is a big gap area even as per the US government.

Q: So I agree that this is still at a legislative stage, but what was their response that you have got – was there any assurance given with respect to protecting Indian IT companies.

A: I don’t think we were seeking protection for Indian IT companies as such – as I said I think the primary objective was to ensure that any measures are uniformly applicable – that the measures are worked out taking into consideration the fact that the industry is a huge jobseekers by itself as well as indirectly and most importantly that it contributes to the ability of corporate America to create jobs. That is what we had been emphasising. It is not at a stage where obviously the legislative proposals while there are a few of them floating around. It is a long way, there are many more steps in the legislative process, but then there are also possible administrative actions.

Q: What was the sense that you got from the Trump administration, what are the administrative actions that could have an impact?

A: I think that there are some genuine concerns that the government has with regard to immigration in general, not with regard to H1-B and those broader issues are not only of importance, but of some urgency given the context of various discussions and debates that took place in the run up to the election, but against that broader backdrop there is also a move to review what are the arrangements with regard to H1-B visas and what changes need to be brought about.

Q: So is there a possibility that there have been various executive orders that have come out, so over and above the visa concerns, the concern is there could be an executive order on H1-B visa programme as a whole. Is that the sense that you got?

A: We have to understand how the American system works and most of the substantive issues relating to H1-B visas falls within the legislative jurisdiction and not within the administrative jurisdiction. What we are hearing and what in fact the leaked executive order which was available on the net indicate, is that on the executive side what is being contemplated is also a greater oversight and review of the implementation to avoid any alleged abuses and I think we have absolutely no difficulty with that, because the Indian companies have been completely compliant with US law.

All previous inspections and investigations have in fact only confirmed that and many people confused the difficulties which they have with the visa regime and the objectives of the visa regime and the law as it stand with so called abuses – so anything which they find as a shortcoming is interpreted as an abuse by the company, which in fact is not at all the case and as the changes if any which are contemplated are brought about – I think it is our effort to ensure that these two aspects are kept distinct separate and that when issues are addressed is broader contribution is kept in mind.

Q: Is the US Administration, the Trump Administration open the issues that you put forth, the suggestions that you put forth because that seems to be the concern that there has not been as much of an open dialogue so far?

A: On our part, certainly, we had a favourable impression of their willingness to listen and of their willingness to engage in a conversation and understand the issues. It is clear from our conversations that there is a need, in fact, a major need for us to continue to engage and make the decision makers, both on the legislative and on the administrative side aware of all the ramifications of this issue. Many of them are not aware or at least as aware as we would like them to be, so clearly we have our work cut out for us also to make them aware.

Q: So there will be more meetings that will be required in terms of meeting legislative leaders.

A: Yes, obviously, as I said, legislation is a long process in the US. There are a number of different dimensions to the H1B visa programme itself. But, as I said, there are other issues regarding immigration which do not concern the industry which are also on the table.

Q: Which can have an indirect impact.

A: Which could have an indirect impact.

Q: Is it slowing the process? Will it slow the process of getting visas for instance?

A: The recent administrative instructions which were issued a couple of days ago dispensing or rather suspending the priority processing of H1B visas certainly would impact the speed of processing of visas and some implications for business as well. But then, this is something which is not entirely unusual in the beginning of the year, in order to create capacity to handle the rush of applications which come in April. But, what is new is that this time, the period is six months and it is also applicable to extensions and transfers and so on.

So we will, on our part, continue to engage, not only with the US government, but the US embassy in India to ensure that there is no hindrance or difficulty for the industry to get the processes in shape.

Q: You did get the sense that their executive orders as far as immigration norms are concerned are also likely, further such orders are likely in the next few months?

A: To the extent that it falls within the administrative purview.

Q: For instance, would you get a sense of what are the orders that are likely that could have their impact?

A: It is too early to say, but as I said, clearly, one of the things that is being looked at is a greater oversight which, as I said, that is something that we have no problem with because the industry is fully compliant with US law. The other aspect is a deeper consideration of all the issues and that is what also the late executive order also indicated. But all of these would also provide substantive inputs into the legislative process because there are issues as you may be aware of whether the minimum exempt wage needs to be raised, if so, to what level, whether the lottery system needs to be continued, etc. So, as both the legislature and the executive starts addressing these issues, the need is for them to be aware of the implications fully, both to the US economy, to US companies, to US employment seekers and to the Indian companies as well. And this totality needs to be considered.