By Habib Beary
The UK decision to review fast-track visas for Indian technology workers is a protectionist measure taken in response to criticism over job losses, Indian software industry leaders have said.
Indian IT workers help rather than hinder Europe, Indian firms say
Britain has joined the US and Germany in tightening regulations to stem the inflow of Indian software professionals, who are in great demand for their skills and the relatively low cost of employing them.
A senior official of software company Wipro Technologies, Laxman Badiga, said the perception of job losses particularly in Germany was a politically sensitive issue which Indian industry has to learn to cope with.
Wipro has more than 1,000 engineers working in Europe. Som Mittal, chairman of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), said it was not true that use of Indian or foreign professionals had led to job losses.
But he said he regretted that some people in these countries were trying to link unemployment with import of skilled labour.
"The import of skills, especially those in short supply, helps these companies by making them more competitive and efficient.
"This is crucial in a globalised and competitive world. The other extreme alternative would mean that some of these companies would wind up, with loss of all jobs."
Britain, which relaxed visa restrictions two years ago, has ordered an investigation by the National Audit Office into complaints of job losses because of the fast-track visa scheme.
Germany was the first to order a clampdown. Its decision to stop issuing work and residency permits from August this year is said by Indian industry leaders to be politically driven.
Political parties had made an issue of job losses to outsiders, forcing authorities to put software engineers in the general category for issuance of work permits.
Germany in 2000 decided to issue 20,000 permits for IT professionals.
Indians constitute the single largest group of visa holders of the 13,500 issued to date.
Indian software professionals had started looking at Germany as an alternative employment destination following layoffs in the US two years ago due to the economic slowdown.
Indian IT professionals in Europe are now being questioned and subjected to minute checks of their travel and work documents, Indian companies say.
There have also been arrests in the Netherlands and Malaysia for alleged visa irregularities.
Indian companies have said the arrests were not justified.
Reports of the arrests sparked outrage in India and led the country's foreign ministry to take up the cases with the respective governments.