As U.S. IT jobs are cut, H-1B use by offshoring vendors is rising

H-1B hiring by top India-based outsourcers increased last year, government data shows

The U.S. government's H-1B visa usage data for fiscal 2008 shows that offshore outsourcing firms based in India are employing a growing number of H-1B workers — a hiring trend that is affecting the IT workforces in communities such as Oldsmar, Fla.

Oldsmar is the home of a technology center operated by The Nielsen Co., which measures TV audiences, consumer trends and other metrics for its clients. Nielsen last year began laying off workers at the facility after announcing in October 2007 a 10-year global outsourcing agreement valued at $1.2 billion with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

And while Nielsen cut employees, Mumbai, India-based Tata was increasing its hiring of H-1B workers. Tata received approval for a total of 1,539 H-1B visas during the federal fiscal year that ended last September, according to government data released this week. That was nearly double the 797 visas that the outsourcing and IT services vendor received in fiscal 2007.

In Oldsmar, "they are still bringing in Indians," said Janice Miller, a city councilwoman who lives about a mile from the Nielsen facility. "And there are a lot of [local] people out of work."

Nielsen received a variety of state and local incentives in 2001 to build the $100 million technology center. Because some of the incentives were pegged to employment levels, the company reported actions such as its layoffs to local officials. But after the public uproar over the cutbacks, Nielsen last July said it would end its use of tax breaks from Oldsmar and Florida's Pinellas County that had saved the company a total of $1.4 million.

Nielsen officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the current employment levels at the tech center. On its Web site, the company says 1,500 people work at the facility and details its multimillion-dollar contributions to the local economy. But Nielsen doesn't say how many of those workers are contractors. In July, Nielsen said it expected to have about 1,300 employees in Oldsmar by the end of last year, plus 250 or so contract workers.

The number of H-1B visas that can be issued annually is capped by Congress at 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 set aside for foreigners who hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities. But while the total of available visas remains constant, the number issued to the major offshoring vendors is rising.

The four largest H-1B recipients last year are all based in India: Infosys Technologies Ltd., with 4,559 visas; Wipro Ltd., with 2,678; Satyam Computer Services Ltd., with 1,917; and Tata. The number of visas issued to Infosys was identical to what it received in fiscal 2007, but Wipro, Satyam and Tata all saw increases.

In total, the top 10 IT services firms on the H-1B list received nearly 13,300 visas last year, almost 1,000 more than they were issued in 2007. Some of those companies are based in the U.S., such as Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. But they all have substantial operations in India or other offshore locations.

With the overall number of IT jobs in the U.S. declining because of the economic recession, there has been some backlash in Washington over corporate use of H-1B workers. The $787 billion economic stimulus plan signed into law by President Barack Obama last week includes restrictions on H-1B hiring by financial services firms that receive federal bailout funds. But the restrictions don't affect outsourcing vendors that provide IT services to the financial sector.

In an interview last week, Srini Pallia, vice president and global head of business technology services at Wipro, said that if the restrictions increase on H-1B visa use, his company has a "Plan B" that would include hiring more workers in the U.S. "We definitely have people locally who will be on the project," he said.

But Pallia said that restrictions such as the ones in the stimulus package may well drive more IT work offshore from companies that were previously looking at an on-shore, on-site model — in other words, companies that would have kept at least some of their work in the U.S.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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