Possible changes in H-1B visa regime non-discriminatory; TCS unshaken: CEO

Unfazed by the possible changes to the H1-B visa regime, CEO of India’s IT major TCS Rajesh Gopinathan has said the current discourse on the issue in the US is driven by emotions rather than economy and the best way to tackle it is through greater engagement.

Gopinathan favoured a policy of engagement with various stake holders on the issue of H-1B visas in the US. He noted that the discourse is currently driven by emotions rather than economy.

“The best way to tackle that is greater engagement. Because the way, sometimes, companies like us get characterised is very different from the reality of what we bring to the table,” Gopinathan, who is in his mid-40s, said.

“Some of these engagements actually help get that message out also. People will understand us better for who we are, and I think engagement, communication and collaboration is the best way to deal with the political lack of understanding which comes. Democracy ought to deal with the emotional response that you see and you have to get over it and engage positively,” Gopinathan said.

He said the US has been a “very welcoming market” for the IT major and has provided it with a fair, open and competitive environment.

“All said and done, the US has been a very welcoming market for us. So you keep aside the immediate issues, it’s been a market that has been fair, it has been an open, competitive environment,” Gopinathan told PTI, exuding confidence that TCS would be able to successfully compete in any environment.

Gopinathan said TCS has competed and has won against the best in the country.

“We have competed and we have won against the global best in this country, on equal footing. So, it has been a market that has helped us grow in confidence as we have gone,” he said but repeatedly refrained from having any complaint from the present system or the possibility of a new executive order that would adversely have an impact on his company’s performance due to any action by the Trump Administration on H-1B visas.

US President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order that would tighten the process of issuing the H-1B visas and seek a review of the system for creating an “entirely new structure” for awarding these visas.

Gopinathan was appointed as the new CEO of TCS this January after his predecessor N Chandrasekaran was elevated to the post of Chairman of Tata Sons.

Responding to questions on a potential executive order or legislations being talked about lawmakers, Gopinathan asserted that there is no law currently in the US that is discriminatory.

“There are many that are being discussed, which if they were to get passed, in their extreme form would be discriminatory. So we should actually give credence to the system here, that is, as I said, it is fair. It has been fair in the past, there is no reason for us to assume that it will not be fair in the future. So, let’s deal with what’s on the ground and let’s go step by step,” he said.

“More importantly, we have very active STEM education engagement in the US. We work with colleges, high school students, we reach out, we have touched close to 20,000 plus students already, and significantly we are accelerate that into what we call Ignite My Future Campaign. We just target to touch one million students all in the next five years,” he said.

Noting that the technology market is actually under supplied, he said the sheer demand of technical skills far outstrips the supply.

“What we’ve been successful in India is to actually increase the world supply, often generating graduates way beyond what the governing systems actually provided. So we capitalised the emergence of a private sector education complex that served to provide us the talent required for our growth,” he said.
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Another problem is that close to 50 per cent of the technical talent in the country’s graduating class, actually are immigrants.

“So if you don’t retain them here, that’s another problem that the country has. The current expectation, or predictions is that by 2020 the total gap between supply and demand will be one million in the area of technical talent. So you’ll have one million more jobs than the available skilled man for it. So that’s the extent of the gap. That needs to be better explained and understood, and we need to engage more towards doing that,” the TCS CEO said.

Gopinathan strongly refuted the allegations against TCS in particular and other Indian IT companies in general that they bring in foreign workers at low wage and displace Americans.

“By law, we are an equal employment, equal opportunities employer. Even when we have expats coming into the county, their average salary is benchmarked to be higher than the 50th quartile, so on an average, they get more than the average of the population. So the assumption that they are actually underpaid is factually incorrect, because they cannot be,” he said.

“By law they have to be paid more than the average. That has been the law for since the time that I remember it. So that position is factually incorrect,” he said.

Secondly, it is a hugely mobile market.

“If you were to be underpaid, each individual is at full liberty to shift, it’s a totally portable job,” he observed.

Ruing that many of these are under-appreciated, and that characterisation continues even though it is factually not correct, Gopinathan said they got to deal with it systematically and put these facts in front of people.

“The reason customers continue to stay with us is because we bring top quality talent into the market, because they are obviously looking for people who will increase their innovativeness, improve their competitiveness, and that’s where the whole thing is. The tech market is unforgiving. It is not a market, or it is not a skill that an individual can claim credit on tenure. So you’ve got to constantly invest in talent building,” Gopinathan said.

Responding to a question on hike in certain categories of H-1B visas, he refuted the allegations that these are non- discriminatory.

“Visa hike is technically non-discriminatory. But the rest of it, I don’t want to comment on what has not yet come. There is no law that I would say is discriminatory. Some proposals out there which would be highly discriminatory if they were to go through, but then we can rely on the fact that it has not happened in the past, and if you were to ask what sort of request is that, non-discriminatory policies, whatever they be, we are fine with it,” he said.