Indian IT industry not H-1B dependent: Infosys CEO

Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka has refuted the general impression that the Indian IT industry is overly dependent on H-1B visas for its business mode, amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on firms abusing the visa system to hire foreign workers on a low wage.

Sikka also believes that the Indian IT companies need to grab the opportunities provided by new technologies such as artificial intelligence in a big way to retain its global leadership edge in this fast changing infotech environment.
“It is wrong to say and to think that we are dependent on H-1Bs. For example, if you look over the last 10 years, there are about 65,000, something like that, H-1B visas granted every year. That means over 10 years it is 650,000. And we collectively employ millions of people. Infosys alone has 200,000 employees. TCS close to double that number and so on,” 50-year-old Sikka told PTI in an interview.

So, the assumption that Indian IT firms are dependent on H-1B visas is not correct, he said in response to a question on the charges that the business model of Indian IT companies is based on H-1B visas and major Indian IT firms such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS are expected to be hit by the Trump administration’s crackdown on firms abusing the visa system.

In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to raise this issue with US President Donald Trump during his White House meeting here next week.

During his wide ranging phone conversation from Palo Alto in California, Sikka acknowledged that in the last decade-and-a-half, there was a lot of usage of the H-1B visas. “But, ultimately it has always been about delivering value,” he asserted.

“The Indian IT industry has delivered a tremendous amount of value, especially in the US. But the nature of that value delivery is changing dramatically. Just as in the past it was easier and it was possible to move jobs to India or to companies where large amount of work would happen in India. So, this kind of a global delivery model or onsite, offshore and so forth…More and more of the work can now be done with automation,” he said.

Responding to another question, Sikka said since more and more of the work is now becoming automated, Indian IT companies need to focus much more on innovative areas, on the new areas, on areas that are frontier areas.
“Like artificial intelligence (AI), like machine learning, like Internet openings and you know, voice interfaces and chat interfaces, virtual reality, cyber security and these kinds of things,” he said.

“So, we have to bring in a deep focus on embracing automation and AI for that part of our world which is becoming automatised and becoming much more innovative in the new parts of our work. I think that is what the future is going to be all about. It is, every aspect of our life is being transformed by software. Every aspect of our life is being transformed by AI. And we have to embrace this,” Sikka said.

Indian IT companies, including Infosys, have embarked on this new path, he said. “I think that in general we are, the industry is still in the early stages and I’m very happy with what we are doing at Infosys,” he said.

“We have also given back a lot over the last 35 years. And now we have a plan to bring in 10,000 new generation jobs here in the US in the next two years. We already started down that path, we opened our first centre in Indianapolis. We are going to hire 500 people there by next year. We will have other centres that will be coming up in the near future,” he said in response to a question.

He said the Indian IT industry already contributes a lot to the US economy and it will do even more.
“We are committed to the US economy. So I think that in addition, beyond hiring and the local economy and the contribution and so forth, it is about innovation. It is about creating jobs with new kinds of skills,” Sikka said.
He said the 10,000 jobs that they plan to bring in the US are all high skilled jobs and in innovative new areas, such as AI, new interfaces and cloud-based technology.

“In order to do that, we have to train people. We are creating a huge amount of training and skilling programmes to help create these jobs, create these skills. All our centres are not really innovation centres where we deliver value to the client, but also training centres where we hire kids out of college as well as adults and either skill them or deskill them in these areas,” he said.

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