In March this year, Indian IT professionals were worried the US decision to suspend fast-track processing of H-1B visa would make it hard to find jobs in the country. IT industry body Nasscom has now said it's not just the US that's being protectionist; several other countries are flouting commitments given at the World Trade Organisation or in trade agreements with India.
India is seeking a permanent agreement for trade facilitation in services and is also pushing for liberal rules in Asean and other countries such as China, Australia and New Zealand. This is under the regional comprehensive economic partnership agreement, which will create one of the world's largest free trade areas, say reports. "The changes in visa policies are in violation of the spirit of the trade agreements," said R Chandrashekhar, president, Nasscom. "Countries like the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Singapore have either started going slow on visas, making it more difficult, or subjecting the process to more scrutiny." The first three are also giving preference to those likely to become permanent residents and later citizens, he added.
The difficulty for IT professionals is that most countries are not clear on the number of visas agreed to, which makes it easier for them to flout norms. The US is the only country that partially mentions the visa category-H1-under the WTO agreement on trade in services. Worker visas to Singapore, Indonesia and Australia have become tougher. In April this year, Singapore kept several applications for work permits on hold, hiked the minimum salary for job seekers, and directed companies to hire more locals. In the same month, Australia abolished a visa programme used by over 95,000 temporary foreign workers (most of them Indian), ostensibly to tackle growing unemployment. The country has also tightened the visa process.
The UK has also scrapped short-term visas for IT companies (termed 'Tier 2' visas) and steeply hiked the minimum wage requirement. At a time when IT professionals are facing massive lay-offs at India's storied companies, the fresh hurdles they face overseas have added to the uncertainty.
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