H1B restrictions would choke US of talent: Premji

WASHINGTON - Wipro’s executive chairman, Azim Premji has warned that a proposal to restrict hiring holders of H1B visas for skilled workers will choke America of talent coming in and could generate a trade war with countries such as India.

“In my opinion it’s a very drastic initiative,” he said in an interview with BusinessWeek, referring to a bill in the US Senate basically preventing firms from hiring H1Bs in the US or bringing in holders of L1 visas for semi-skilled workers.

“It will choke the United States of talent coming in. You will not be able to substitute the absence of this talent with local hires because it’s not easily available,” Premji said.

“Also, you’ll generate a trade war with countries such as India,” he said, calling it as a freedom-of-trade issue. “It’s precisely what President (Barack) Obama said in the G20 meeting: The United States will not get into a spate of protectionism.”

Premji suggested the US must realise that today 60 to 70 percent of the growth of the revenues of large American companies comes from India and China.

“These are the growth markets. It’s a simple thing for our government to raise tariffs. It’s a simple thing for our government to say no American corporation will get central or state government contracts, or defence contracts,” he warned.

Noting that the software and BPO industries for India represent 24 percent of its exports, Premji said: “These are critical industries for emerging countries… There’s no way our government can take it lightly.”

Asked what would happen if the bill passes, the Wipro chief said Obama “is too sensible to pass it. He’s too mature”.

Describing global trade in IT as vital “because the economies of all countries are getting more and more the dominance of services, versus manufacturing and agriculture”, Premji said: “To risk a cycle of protectionism, it’s not worth it.”

“What’s the total of visas issued in a year? 20,000 to India. What will you achieve? The 20,000 will come down to 12,000. You’ll create 8,000 more jobs, theoretically, with the rules. “What’s that compared to 9 per cent unemployment on a total labour force of 100 million?” he asked, calling it “a very short term approach”.

Asked why IBM and Accenture were employing so many people in India, Premji said: “They like the low labour rates… the quality of the people, the willingness to work hard. They’re not getting the people they need in the United States. That’s the bottom line.”


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