It’s no secret some of the best IT employees in the world come from India. Each year, India graduates approximately 160,000 IT professionals—compared with the U.S., which graduates approximately 30,000 per year, according to Farley Blackman , founder of an offshore software development firm and GE's former director of offshore development.
Whether you’re already contracting employees from India or you’re just exploring the possibility of importing IT professionals, you’ll want to consider a few legal and cultural issues to ensure a smooth transition for everyone.
“It’s a known fact that you can get very good talent in India,” said Deepak Amin, founder of vJungle.com , an integrated application service provider with locations in Seattle and Bombay, India. “Nowadays, there are a ton of American companies led by completely American people that are saying, ‘Hey, we have a huge shortage of personnel and we’re not finding good people to fill our open positions here in the U.S., so let’s go to India now.’”
Working with a contractor…
The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you’ll want to handle bringing in the worker yourself or deal with a contracting agency, referred to as “body shops” in India.
If you only need a few employees temporarily, consider working with a contracting agency. An agency can take on the legal liability for the employee, according to Carl Shusterman, a California-certified specialist in immigration and nationality law who previously worked with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“If you hire the person directly, you have all sorts of obligations,” Shusterman said. “If you hire somebody and they’re a contractor, the contracting company has all the obligations.”
Amin added that agencies are also good if you need someone on the job quickly or temporarily.
“If you are looking at a long-term relationship with an employee, and you just need one or two or three people, or five people, then you’re still better off working with an agency and getting them to get you somebody over,” Amin said. “If you’re looking at an ongoing recruitment process, then you’re most likely better off going at it on your own.”
You’ll need to find a reputable firm who will research the employee’s credentials and treat the worker fairly. You also should ask to review the contract an employee will have to sign with the agency. According to Amin, some firms take advantage of their employees by making unreasonable demands, including three- to five-year work commitments backed by bonds. If the employee leaves the agency, the firm may try to collect the bond from the employee’s family in India.
…Versus doing it yourself
If you decide to sponsor the employee yourself, find a qualified attorney who specializes in H-1B visas.
“I can tell you as a lawyer they definitely should get good legal advice,” Shusterman said. “Most companies are this sophisticated. Some just flabbergast me because they haven’t figured this out yet.”
If the process isn’t done correctly, your company can face lofty fines, lose the employee, and be barred from sponsoring visas and citizenships.
In one blunder Shusterman described, a company hired three attorneys to handle H-1B visas for three employees. One programmer filed a grievance with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Administration and the company was fined in excess of a quarter million dollars.
The company learned that two of its lawyers had not obtained a prevailing wage quote from the government.
“They thought they had done everything right, too,” Shusterman said.
Shusterman’s firm was brought in to handle the case and argued that the company had not acted maliciously. The fine was reduced and the firm was allowed to sponsor citizenship for one of its key Indian programmers.
“They didn’t do anything maliciously,” he said. “They thought all these attorneys knew what they were doing and they didn’t.”
A few other considerations if you plan to sponsor an H-1B visa:
- H-1B visas are limited to six years. While you can sponsor an employee for citizenship, the U.S. puts per-country limits on citizenship. Shusterman recommends planning ahead if your employee is from India because there’s a long waiting list for that country.
- The Department of Labor requires you to post the job and prove the visa worker won’t be displacing or affecting the wages of U.S. workers in similar positions, so allot time for advertising the positions.
Amin came to the U.S. on a student visa and transferred to an H-1B visa when Microsoft hired him to assist with the development of its Internet Explorer. Now, his company sponsors people for H-1B visas.
To make the transition easier, Amin established a mentoring program. The mentor, often another Indian employee, helps acclimate the new employee to differences in simple matters, like grocery shopping, using credit cards, and driving.
He shared the story of a friend who was pulled over for speeding.
“Now in India, what happens is you typically get out of the car and you talk to the guy and negotiate what sort of a fine you pay—or you don’t pay for that matter,” he said. “As it turns out, this friend of my friend got out of the car and the cop pulled out his gun immediately because here you don’t do that. You sit in the car and you keep your hands on the driving wheel and you wait.”
You should also make it clear the Indian IT workers are valued employees, Amin said. He often holds special company events to help the new employees feel included.
“Whatever it is we can do, both from a business side and from a personal side, we want them to feel like they’re just like any other employee.”
After all, you may have just hired the next IT genius.
“All these companies, from Hotmail on down the line, were all started by Indians and they have all the Silicon Valley multi-multi millionaires—a big percentage of them are foreign born,” Shusterman said. “Silicon Valley is built on immigrants and so is the IT industry.”
Tell us what you think the industry and governments can do to make life better for international IT workers by posting a comment below or dropping us a note.