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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Will the H1/L1 US visa restrictions 'news' affect the IT sector?

A couple of months back, I had written a post about how to use financial news. Four categories of 'news' were discussed - good, great, bad and worse. Some suggestions about how to deal with such news were given.

What if there is a fifth category? Some item that appears in the pink papers or business channels as 'news' and causes some turmoil in the stock markets - but later turns out to be a misinterpretation? It wasn't really 'news'?

It is difficult to take any action till you receive further clarifications. Or, you may have an 'insider' in the industry or sector who can separate the wheat form the chaff and go to the core issue to advise you.

The recent 'news' about the H1/L1 visa restrictions for temporary non-immigrant workers in the USA is a case in point. The business channels went to town about it, asking leading members of the IT industry how these restrictions will affect their top lines and bottom lines.

Some retail investors dumped Infosys, TCS and other IT stocks. Some even stated that the leading IT sector stocks had become 'fundamentally weak'. The 'smart money' lapped up the stocks.

Any one who has spent a few years in the IT industry and has worked in the USA would take such 'news' in their stride. Because (s)he would know that similar 'news' keeps popping up every so often only to dissolve without a trace.

Why? Because the visa restriction 'news' was only a proposal by a couple of senators - pandering to the popular misconception that most of USA's unemployment problems have been caused by jobs being outsourced to India.

It takes a very long while - some times, forever - for such restrictive proposals to become a law. The proposal needs to be tabled and passed in the US Congress and the Senate. There will be a strong Indian-American lobby that will be working against it.

Even if the proposal gets through both houses, it is likely that there will be several amendments made to the original draft proposal. Each amendment will take its own sweet time to go through.

The US President has to sign the revised proposal to turn it into a 'law'. He has the authority to turn it down, or - you guessed it - seek more amendments. Many such proposals never get to become a law. Even if it does, most of the severe restrictions are likely to get diluted.

At the end of it all, should the visa restrictions become a law, it will not take effect retrospectively. Meaning, existing H1/L1 visa holders will not be affected. Only new visa applications made after the law comes into effect will face the restrictions.

Who might get affected the most in the IT sector? It will be the small body-shoppers whose business model is to hire out programmers to different US companies.

Also affected will be large US IT companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco who employ significant numbers of H1/L1 software personnel from India. They will face difficulty in finding new employees from the US job market. So they will probably be lobbying the US government to veto such a restrictive proposal.

Infosys, TCS, Wipro have globally dispersed businesses, with a large portion of the work done 'offshore' in India. They will be inconvenienced, but the effect on their top line and bottom line will be very little.

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