Cross-border Dreams still alive and kicking
Job opportunities may have shrunk in the short-term for Indian immigrants in some countries. However, the long haul still looks very bright for the young and skilled workforce. Continental Europe is wooing Indian workers and the Indian government is providing support. Global careers are definitely not a thing of the past, finds Ishani Duttagupta of The Times of India.
The skilled and young Indian workforce was considered hot property around in world, specially in countries with changing demographics and an ageing workforce. But has the advent of the dreaded ‘R’ word, changed all that? A look at the US, where the much sought-after H1B visas are still going a begging, even as the fiscal year 2010 comes to an end, does seem to point in that direction. Compared to the previous two years, when the H1B cap of 65,000 visas were grabbed within almost minutes of the window opening up, this does bring to mind the record high above 9% unemployment rate in the US, with financial services companies – that employed a large number of Indian knowledge workers – among the hardest hit. President Obama’s stimulus package has also incorporated a provision that requires companies that received money from the Troubled Assets Relief Programme, and having more than 15% of their workers on H1B visas, to prove that they are not replacing or depriving a US citizen of a job with a foreign worker. According to figures from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, as of August 28, 2009, approximately 20,000 H-1B ‘cap-subject’ petitions were still up for grabs.
But despite the writing on the wall in the US, the message for skilled Indians looking at opportunities overseas may not be really all that bleak. Even though the opportunities in some geographies may have shrunk in the short-term, the outlook in the long haul may not be so bad. In fact, concerns over the impact of global slowdown on jobs of Indians working overseas has catalysed the ministry of overseas Indian affairs into carrying out a study on the global scenario. “What we have found is that while immigrants in some geographies may be facing job losses, there are others where new opportunities are emerging. The other fear that there would be a sharp drop in remittances, too, has been largely unfounded. Remittances grew to a whopping $45 billion in 2008. And in 2009 too there has been no slowdown in remittances,” says Mr G. Gurucharan, joint secretary, MOIA.
The Indian government is, in fact, trying to tap into the propensity of the overseas worker to remit back to India specially in the face of the global banking crisis. “We want India to be perceived as a safe destination with strong fundamentals and a sound banking industry. It will be a challenge to convert the NRIs from savers to investors and we will soon introduce new products for them to invest in,” Mr Gurucharan added.
Even though Dubai – a major destination for Indian workers – has been hit by the global slowdown, there are other Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, which have actually seen an increase in numbers of Indian workers emigrating there. Overall, the number of Indian workers moving to the Gulf in 2008-09 has gone up to 8.79 lakh from 8 lakh in 2007-08. “Even for skilled categories such as doctors, nurses and IT workers, there has not been any big drop in employment figures in the Gulf region. Besides, there’s no exodus of returnees,” said Mr Gurucharan.
Even though slowdown has impacted employment in some Western countries, there are others who are addressing long-term domestic labour shortages and looking at tapping skills from countries such as India to fuel economic growth. It’s not always a case of protectionist barriers. The ‘Blue Card’ plan by European Union countries, for instance, is part of a comprehensive migration policy and is targeted at attracting highly-skilled immigrants to take up jobs in EU in sectors suffering from skill shortages. The EU Council has adopted the Blue Card directive in May 2009, which will establish more attractive conditions for third-country workers to take up highly qualified employment in the EU, by creating a fast-track procedure for issuing a special residence and work permit. The Blue Card is intended to facilitate the holder’s access to the EU labour market and thereby to attract and retain highly qualified third-country workers to the EU, with the ultimate goal of creating a competitive knowledge economy. India features very prominently among the list of countries from where the highly skilled talent pool will be drawn.
The Blue Card will not replace existing national systems, but would provide an additional attractive channel, with a common procedure. Meanwhile, some European countries have already gone an extra mile to revamp their immigration policies. In a major change in earlier policy, the government of Sweden has unveiled a new labour immigration system which makes it much simpler for Indians and other non-EU workers to move to Sweden for employment. Sweden’s new immigration policy is, in fact, targeted in a big way at attracting young immigrants from India.
The Danish Embassy in New Delhi has set up a Work-in-Denmark Centre to promote job opportunities in Denmark among Indians, as well as to assist Danish employers seeking to explore the potential of the Indian labour market.
The government of France, too, has launched the skills and talents permit, which allows skilled professionals from overseas to participate in the economic development of the country. This special category of work permit was launched despite the economic slowdown to help France remain connected to the global job market. The skills and talents permit is valid for three years at a time and is renewable. It is issued directly by the local French embassies and consulates and will enable the holder to engage in a salaried position or business activity in France. Spouses of the permit-holders will also be eligible to work in France. The fact that the permit is flexible is very good news for skilled Indian professionals considering that various western countries are imposing protectionist barriers to protect their own domestic workforce in the face of job losses.
And on its part, the Indian government is putting in place bilateral social security agreements on a reciprocal basis with various governments to protect the interests of Indian professionals who are posted in various countries by their employers. The SSAs protect the interests of the Indian workers by exempting them from social security contributions under the host country legislation for a certain period of time (provided that the worker continues to pay the contribution under the home country system during the period of detachment) and by providing for portability of pension in the case of those who have to contribute under the host country legislation. To prevent loss of contribution on account of the minimum contribution period, the SSAs provide for totalization of contribution periods covered under the two legislations. These agreements make the companies of both the countries more competitive since exemption from social security contribution in respect of their employees substantially reduces costs. The government is also in talks for labour mobility partnerships with Denmark and France and has opened a dialogue with the EU as a whole for an India-EU mobility partnership. SSAs have already been signed with Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland; while talks have been concluded with The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, Canada , Australia, Norway and Luxembourg. Negotiations are also on with Sweden. The SSA with the US has been hanging fire for some years now, but in view of the fact that the US is not that attractive a destination for skilled Indians following the slowdown, the concern on that is less.
And it is no surprise that Indian IT companies are looking at the European market to offset the slowdown in the US. Says Mr Vasudeva Nayak, GM, overseas operations cell, Wipro Technologies: “In eastern Europe, we have a fairly good presence. We have a development centre in Romania. But immigration laws are still tough and it is challenging.”
The fact that skilled Indian immigrants are still being sought after around the world, is highlighted even by countries where job losses have hit the domestic economy very hard. The UK, for instance, has unveiled the points-based system for immigration and has made rules tougher for various categories of people seeking to move to the UK. “The UK’s migration policies are not protectionist. They are about responding responsibly and quickly to economic realities. We continue to encourage inward investment in the UK economy and welcome the entry of migrants with the skills needed. Migration makes a substantial contribution, filling gaps in our labour market, including in key public services such as health and education. Migration also increases investment, innovation and entrepreneurship in the UK and helps maintain our leading position in global markets. Skilled migrants from India and elsewhere have supported the UK economy for many years. Their contribution is recognised and they will be part of the UK’s recovery,” says Chris Dix, regional director, South Asia and the Gulf, UK Border Agency (UKBA). firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Times of India, August 13, 1009