Techies Beware: Immigrating to America Ain't Easy Anymore

During the 1980s and 1990s a number of engineers and other professionals routinely immigrated to the US.  After your undergraduate degree in India, go to the US, complete your Masters degree, pick up a job, get your green card and settle down in the US, this was the norm for a number of professionals.   This tried and tested path has started to get harder for several reasons.

Globalization and Outsourcing, driven primarily by technological advancements, have caused several new trends to emerge among the Indian expatriate in the US.  Firstly, a number of Indian professionals who moved to the US during the Internet boom days have returned to India due to the lay-offs that followed the dramatic downturn.  Many of these individuals were on H-1B visas and hence potentional immigrants whose aspirations were prematurely ended by the downturn.

Secondly, a number of mid to senior level professionals (some out of choice and others due to circumstances)  have started to return to India to work for American Corporations at their India centers.  These include green card holders, and others who had taken up American citizenship.  While its hard to predict, its highly likely that a large number of these individuals who have re-located to India are unlikely to return or even if they desired to, the return path is bond to be difficult and challenging, both professional and financial.

Thirdly, it has become extremely difficult for fresh undergraduates and graduates, to find jobs in the technology industry, in particular. The downturn in the technology industry in the US being the main reason for this trend. Corporations don’t have the time or the resources to hire and train fresh graduates. Instead, they need more experienced individuals who can be productive from day one. In a market where unemployment is at its peak, experienced individuals are relatively easily available.

A big part of the immigration is the processing of the green card by the employer.  Over the last two decades, American corporations routinely processed green cards for their employees, many of whom joined the workforce after their Master’s degrees with little or no work experience. In fact, it was so common that the green card generation machine worked like clock work as immigration lawyers churned out applications in almost assembly line fashion.   However, lately, multi-national companies have become very stringent about processing green cards for their employees.  Very often, employees of Indian origin are being encouraged to return and work at their Indian centers. This is understandable, since it is a very cost effective option for companies with established centers in India.  Its highly likely that US corporations will hire less number of graduate students (with a Masters and no work experience) in the US, than ever before, with each passing year, because its far cheaper to hire graduates in India and other countries.  In fact, American corporations might choose to hire in the US and post the individual in India on Indian salaries.

The good news about globalization and outsourcing is that over time, where employees are located is likely to  matters less and less to businesses. Instead, efficiency, productivity and overall ability for quality work are likely to be of greater importance than mere location. As a result of a large number of multi-nationals establishing operations in India and the small to medium sized businesses likely to follow suit in order to remain competitive (and viable!), attractive and exciting opportunities are likely to continue to evolve in India, particularly in the technology business. For example, the venture capital community has become very tuned to the fact that an operation in India or some other cost effective location where talent is available, is no longer “a nice to have” but a “must have” for businesses.  In fact, a number of venture capital firms have started to focus specifically on companies with a presence in both India and the US.  The bad news about outsourcing and globalization is that, the traditional road to America for Indian professionals is not very viable anymore.

So what does this mean, for example, to an engineer  graduating from one of the leading institutions in India and aspiring to head off to the US like many of his/her predecessors? Unfortunately, its a very different paradigm today from a decade or two ago where immigrating to the US was a tried and tested path.  In fact, these days you have foreigners seeking internship and sometimes jobs based in India!  So, if the engineer does not have genuine interest in pursuing specialized advanced studies (like a Ph.D), coming over to the US as a student might not be a very good option especially if immigration to the US was the ultimate objective.
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