India is an ancient land of resilient individuals who have overcome obstacles that would surely have defeated a lesser people. Indian’s history of resistance to outside forces is long and proud. In 326 BCE, she convinced Alexander the Great to turn for home, the Battle of Chamkaur in 1703 saw 45 Sikhs (Khalsa warriors) hold off 150,000 Mughals long enough for their chieftain to escape and continue the fight, and, of course, there is India’s winning independence from Britain in 1947.
Whatever the challenge, Mother India’s children always seem to find a path to making do. One of their recent challenges has come from the tough stance on H-1B visas taken by President Donald Trump of the United States. At first, many Indian and U.S. companies heard Trump’s tough talk with alarm, and felt such action would result in economic harm to the tech industries of both nations. Particularly so for India’s tech sector, as U.S. consumers take in 65 percent of their software exports.
Fortunately, Indians haven’t become a tech-powerhouse by wringing their hands and hoping for the best. Led by IT bigwigs like Infosys, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and in anticipation of such a move, the industry for some time now has been taking steps to rely less on the U.S., and reduce the impact of any visa restrictions.
The Pivot to Mexico
One mitigating maneuver may seem surprising: Way back in 2007, (an eternity in IT), TCS opened a global delivery center in Mexico. The center employs several thousand IT pros, a significant number of them hailing from India.
That same year, Wipro opened a software development facility in the Mexican metropolis of Monterrey to service clients in North America and Latin America. Two years later, Infosys followed suit with a center of its own. Today, the city of Guadalajara, MX is a bona fide technology hub, hosting at least 10 major Indian IT companies.
Mexico has become an attractive de facto near-shore location for Indian tech service centers because of four reasons:
- It’s in the same time zones as Indian firms’ North American and Latin American customers
- It’s within a day’s travel by air of those customers
- Infrastructure within the larger cities is adequate for tech companies
- There is a sizable talent pool from which to recruit
Tech companies have been opening facilities south of the U.S. border with a good degree of success. To date, TCS employs more than 6,000 IT pros in 14 Latin and South American countries, including major operations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay.
America’s Neighbor to the North and a Pacific Haven
Canada is another country gladly turning on the “welcome” sign for India’s tech talent. Shortly after President Trump’s executive order blocking entry to individuals from several Muslim majority countries, 3,500 executives from Canada’s tech industry signed an open letter to their government calling for “an immediate and target visa” to provide temporary residence in Canada to those displaced by the order.
Taking advantage of Canadian openness, an increasing number of Indian-led tech companies have availed themselves of the Canadian Start-up Visa program. The program allows international startups to relocate their headquarters to Canada. Within six months of entry, executives of many of these Tech companies and their families have been able to secure permanent residency in Canada.
Looking eastward, Indian tech workers are also finding a warm welcome in Japan. Faced with an inadequate base and capacity of IT talent to meet national needs, the Japanese government is actively recruiting skilled tech pros from India.
As part of their effort to woo Indian tech workers Japan exempts them from making social security contributions, meaning their salaries are higher. The government has also implemented a “green card” program making skilled professionals eligible for permanent residency within two years of employment in the country.
Everyone Else’s Gain is America’s Loss
The emigration of Indian IT professionals is waking people up in some U.S.-based companies as they fear becoming less competitive globally. The U.S. tech industry regularly faces a chronic skills shortage —nearly two-thirds of allocated H-1B visas go to workers in computer-related occupations.
Indians do have a positive track-record of starting successful companies in the U.S. and restricting access for Indian tech workers may well result in a loss to the U.S. industry.
The National Foundation for American Policy’s 2016 report found that over half of the 87 unicorns (a startup company valued at more than $1 billion) listed in the Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club were founded by immigrants.
India was the leading country of origin for the immigrant founders of these unicorns with 14 entrepreneurs on the list. Some of the private start-ups with valuations of $1 billion or more founded by Indians are Bloom Energy ($2.9 billion), Instacart ($2 billion), AppDynamics ($1.9 billion) and Shazam ($1 billion).
Even if President Trump does succeed in cutting back the number of H-1B visas in the future, Indian tech workers increasingly have other options. As the world wakes up to their training, skills and work ethic, Indian IT pros are on the move and showing their value in far off lands.