December 4, 2023

Business Visa

The Business Visa Is Mightier Than Sword

Visa delays push Indian IT firms to hire US locals

India’s top IT services firms are reworking their recruitment strategies, emphasising local hires in key markets such as the US, amid mounting frustration due to lengthy wait times for work visas.

“We have been building a talent pool that is distributed, local and diverse and, as such, have reduced our dependencies on H1-B visas,” Saurabh Govil, chief human resource officer, Wipro, said in an email response to a question.

For decades, IT companies deployed a significant portion of their workforce overseas while gradually expanding local hiring. However, increasing delays in work visa approvals, sometimes stretching beyond a year or more, have emerged as a key disruptive factor. Consequently, many companies are hiring locally to meet urgent client demands.

After the March quarter earnings, Tata Consultancy Services’ chief human resource officer Milind Lakkad said the US visa delays could prevent its talent from gaining global exposure. “So, business-wise, you know, it’s not a significant issue. We have dealt with it for the last two years, and we can deal with it. From a people standpoint, I would like this to be relaxed more as I can provide a larger percentage of people to go from here quickly to other locations and have that global work exposure,” Lakkad said.

VFS Global, which handles US visa processing in India, said it doesn’t directly manage anything here but is a subcontractor of CGI Federal, which manages visas globally for the US.

Data published by the US embassy in India showed that the wait for B1 and B2 visas could be 331-494 days.

“It’s a diplomatic decision that the embassy will take, and they are looking to ramp up their capacity, we hear,” said an industry expert on visas.

HCL Technologies is also looking at local talent to minimize dependence on visas. “We don’t import people from India, we hire local talent…Our dependence on visas has always been the lowest, which is really a commitment to localization, not just in the US, but all of the geographies where we operate in and delivering top quartile return,” said C. Vijayakumar CEO and MD of HCLTech, in an investor meet last December.

While visa timelines in other regions are getting more relaxed, the US continues to be a challenge, travel agency executives said.

“While we have seen a strong rebound in business travel, US visa concerns are creating a significant hurdle, especially with our tech clients/corporates due to challenges of availability of appointments,” said Indiver Rastogi, president and group head of global business travel, Thomas Cook (India) and SOTC Travel.

Concerns regarding prolonged wait times apply to both short-term B1 and B2 and work visa categories, with appointment slots varying based on the city. The current timeframe for B1 and B2 visas exceeds a year in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

“So, unless a client wants a set of employees that has been working for a while on projects, we have stopped sending employees,” said the human resource head of a mid-tier IT firm, who did not wish to be named. He added that given the stringent timelines, no one is willing to wait for over 90 days for people.

However, the US visa administration recently said it would issue more than a million visas to Indians, offering some relief to IT companies.

“Despite high-level bilateral meetings, there are multiple strategic issues and geopolitics on the table, and visas may get pushed down the list,” said tech analyst Prasanto K. Roy.

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