So, the United States government has announced the suspension of the H-1B and L-1 work visas. Apparently, this is to “protect” domestic workers who had been impacted by the economic contraction due to COVID-19.
There has been enough commentary on this. From Pichai to Bezos to Cook to Musk, everyone has expressed their disapproval. Without delving into politics, I’d like to point out that while H-1B visas have been used extensively by US tech companies to recruit foreign talent. This immigration has played a pivotal role in their success.
This will impact any organization that leverages non-immigration visas, but what happens now? Should Indian IT worry? Should US companies that benefit from the inflow of talent be concerned?
Let’s first understand why these visas are essential.
Visas and the skills gap
Visas such as H-1B and L-1 only became necessary because they helped fill a massive skills gap in the US. It is access to these skills that helped us become globally competitive. From a COVID perspective, we can see tech workers playing a crucial role. Software and digital technologies have helped us establish as much normalcy as possible in these peculiar times. Hospitals, healthcare, education, retail, and a ton of other areas are only functioning because of technology. And what makes that technology work? Software. And the folks who wrote it.
Technology dependency WILL increase
It’s indisputable that our dependency on technology is only going to increase. Software and software products are only going to become more essential and vital. The quality and security of software products will come under the scanner and become even more pivotal. And it’s not only consumer software that has to become more secure and user friendly.
The enterprise impact
The consumerization of enterprise software products is already underway. This pace has only been accelerated by the pandemic. We have been launched into this world of remote work and distributed teams. Enterprises now are more invested in building products that are more user friendly and can be used anytime-anywhere without security and performance issues.
The importance of UI and UX in enterprise products has also become paramount. Then there is an operational aspect for these products. We need to make sure that we make the right technology, infrastructure, architecture, and security choices to enable work-as-usual in a not-so-usual environment.
Talent leads the way
The point being, software products will need more refined and trained talent. And if there isn’t the right talent in the US, product development will move to where the talent(ability, skill) is. And the move will be seamless. Remember that remote working and distributed teams are now a rigorously tested model.
Establishing remote working and distributed teams did experience initial teething problems on the road to achieving near full productivity. It is now clear that most of these were because of the scale and suddenness of the move. Now, organizations have taken precise and calculated steps to ensure that the right technology and infrastructure choices have been deployed.
Seven months into this year and over a hundred days of being in the pandemic grip has prepared software organizations (at least) to completely embrace remote working. Now companies can look outside to source talent with the right processes in place if they can’t locate it stateside. This automatically translates to more opportunities for people with the right skills in other nearshore and offshore locations. I would not be surprised if this leads to a bump in employment figures in offshore and nearshore locations because of talent availability.
Indian offshoring giants such as Wipro, TCS, HCL Tech, and the like are already seeing a steady rise in offshoring opportunities as the pandemic has “renewed trust in the offshore delivery model for critical services.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that with travel bans and now visa restrictions, the focus will logically shift to offshoring and nearshoring to combat talent shortages locally.
Another unwanted consequence could be the emergence of a new breed of start-ups outside the US in the long-term. Many people working on cutting-edge technologies with coveted American organizations will now hone and grow their skills further outside the US. These technologists will gain experience, get inspired, and create a base to launch their start-ups where they live and work. And these start-ups will then hire from those countries. Innovative ideas and disruptive products will then be developed and built in other countries. The United States will probably end up as a buyer or will have to figure out how to catch up in the absence of the right talent.
The H1B announcement has already prompted countries like Canada that have more relaxed immigration norms to announce that they are more receptive to talent. Shortly after the United States announced the suspension, the immigration minister of Canada Marco Mendicino said, “We believe that immigration will spring our recovery out of this pandemic. We have a plan in place that looks to leverage the best and the brightest from around the world. We’ve got pathways like the Express Entry program, and the Global Talent Stream, which will help bring entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators.” If this were a game of tennis, we might hear “Advantage, Canada.”
No one can say with certainty how this move from the US government will pan out. But organizations need technical talent to survive and grow. In the absence of the same stateside, software product development will move to where talent is, irrespective of geographical boundaries. And now we have proven that distributed teams and remote working work. We have battle-hardened systems and processes to deliver results with that model. So, how is physical location a disqualifier in that scenario?