The US visa issue and more on governance and compliance

It is interesting to see the most admired Indian IT company, also revered as the model of governance demonstrate that it is not possible to shed your Indianness. The jalebi thought process that is genetic to our race and the concept of ‘jugaad’ which we are trying to push upwards in business thought as the ultimate tool for inventiveness.

Both, the jalebi and jugaad are words with start with a ‘j’ and in a pack of cards the j is a Joker. One does not need to ask a Tarot practitioner what the Joker represents. Sadly we hide behind the ever-smiling mask indulging ourselves in our individual fantasies of security, ‘Ramrajya’ roti kapda aur makaan’, incredible India, Shanghai to Bombay or whatever pleases us to blow our trumpets out loud.

Enough said about the joke on us, and to turn the spotlight on Infosys – it is being hit with a $35m fine for indulging in questionable visa practices. Recently it broke with “tradition” when Mr Murthy was called back to help the company stand on it’s two feet again. The first governance rule was not to go past a certain age and the second was not to have your kids in the same place! And, Mr Murthy brought his son along as his personal assistant, and the assistant has become independent and promoted to something (I do not know what).
Now I have nothing against Mr Murthy or Mr Nilekani, but guys, you are role models for millions across the world and if you cannot live by your word then WTF!

OK I accept that rules are not cast in stone and the world of business is dynamic and one has to move with the times and all that .. but then at least have the guts to issue a public statement explaining the change of stand, but no. This is not done in the Indian scenario – if you are successful or if you are boss, you do not stoop low as to offer explanations of your actions to the hoi polloi.

So it is fine to be hit with a fine, you are Indian working overseas and you never came to terms with the word compliance because you were fine with jugaad.

Now if we examine why the visa is misused, we have to blame the US Government and clients too, not just Infosys and other Indian companies. Oh come on, just because there are no other names does not mean other Indian companies do not indulge in such practices. Maybe they indulge in darker practices which are too deep to discover !

Well the US Government should realize that it is not easy to get an order from public or private organizations. And, once an RFP has been decided in it’s favour, no self respecting organization will make the first move until an iron clad purchase order is received. From receiving the first whiff of a requirement to getting the iron-clad Purchase Order is usually a very long period of time and can bring organization CxOs to the brink of insanity or to being committed.   
After this long drawn gestation period to get the order in hand, the client wakes up from deep slumber demanding overnight deployment of teams and program managers crack the whip at their Indian laborers. Yes this is a repeat of the slave trade, albeit in a different manner.

Now comes the crunch – the Indian IT behemoth keeps their ‘bench’ in India because this is home and costs are low. The moment the demand crops up the easiest visa is a B1 which is for a business visit and it is easily given out by the US Consular office which looks at income statements, pedigree of the employer and stamps the passport of the young 20+ year old kid. Of course the Consular officers are not so “duh” as to stamp every one meeting this frugal criteria – they seem to have some kind of sweepstake going on too. The reason I say this is because for every ten successful first-timers-with-visa there are 1.5 to 2.5 who are rejected summarily … these guys go back after 3 months and get a visa (same routine).

Now Uncle Sam (chachaji) has woken up and said that the visa is misused. So why cant they just recognize the fact that there are millions of team members who are to travel and get deployed on assignments in their system, or even in the dreaded dirty-tricks NSA. Why can’s a visa be tied to a contract?
Contracts are subject to import laws of the US of A which means that some or the other arms of Government have worked to approve the import of the service and that national interest (security) is protected. Additionally, they will have also done an impact analysis of the contract on US employment, skills and local excitement. If they can do all this then why cannot another department be brought in and a blanket “Contract related visa” – the vendor has made an estimate of the effort and also has a far idea of the number of people that will be deployed. Make sure that the  visa is issued for that contract, that the buyer is jointly responsible for the team members who are deployed and their movement is recorded.

There will be some team members who will qualify for multiple assignments and the Immigration office can include those contracts too.

With limited validity and traceability it will benefit the companies which are engaged in legitimately and are forced into visa non-compliance situations.

Until then the bellwethers of corporate governance should lower the volume on their drum beating and be a bit more patient when acceding to the client’s demand for deployment of the onsite team. 

Whatever course of action is taken by the US government, clearly they are working on an internal agenda. You need us but you want to act pricey and funny and make life miserable for us. Now Infy will be down by 30 odd million and that is not small change and the blame is not 100% on their doorstep. 

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