‘Will require H-1Bs till talent challenge is tackled globally’

The need for H-1B visas will continue to exist till the ‘talent challenge’ is tackled globally, even though the information technology industry has successfully adopted the work-from-home model amid pandemic-related travel restrictions, said Shivendra Singh, vice president and head of Global Trade Development at Nasscom.

The H-1B visa programme allows employers in the US to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require specialised knowledge.

“During the pandemic, the role of the technology sector has become even more critical, whether it’s maintenance of health infrastructure, education, financial services, being contactless… all the new technology, whether it is artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, cybersecurity, cloud… have been growing at nearly 30%,” Mr Singh told The Hindu.

“That has accentuated the challenge in terms of availability of skills,” he said, adding that access to high-skill talent was critical to ensuring growth. He noted that for Indian IT services, the U.S. is the largest export market accounting for more than 60% of the share.

Mr. Singh said with the new administration in place in the U.S. now, there has been a significant drop in H-1B visa denials. “The denial rates had gone up to nearly 28.6%, and have come down to nearly 7% in the period of October 2020-March 2021… when you look specifically at Indian companies, that’s also drastically come down,” he said.

He further added that the top seven Indian companies typically account for about 7-8% of the H-1B visas; however, Indian nationals overall get about 70-75% of these visas “primarily because of the skills that they possess. So they are in demand by global, including U.S., companies. That differentiation needs to be very clearly understood.”

Asked if the success of the work-from-home model would reduce the demand for H-1B visas, Mr. Singh said that talent was going to be the critical driver in terms of how innovation will grow, and this “talent challenge” is going to be further accentuated.

“Even in India, we are facing this huge talent challenge currently… I think around the world, we need to work towards bridging the skills gap… the H-1B exists purely because the skills are not available in that country, it is not because of any other reason…obviously, it will take time, but till that time H-1B will be required,” he said.

“My limited point is that everyone wants to be hiring locally. It’s because of the challenge of not having the required skill set that short term high-skill visas are needed; and it’s a trade issue, it’s not an immigration issue given the fact that it does not impact net migration numbers,” Mr. Singh added.

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