IndiaTechOnline Opinion: Charlie’s ‘chopshops’

09th August 2010
IndiaTechOnline Opinion: Charlie’s ‘chopshops’
Us Senator Charles Schumer, has characterised leading Indian IT companies like Infosys as 'chop shops'. We check out these shops in Bangalore.

Four leading Indian Infotech companies, TCS, Wipro, Infosys and Mahindra Satyam, may end up footing  much of the $ 600 million bill for the United States, to beef up its southern border , employ another 1500 patrol agents, buy free more unmanned drones and set up a couple of new operating bases – all to prevent Mexicans sneaking in to become illegal immigrants.

The US Senate unanimously passed a bill last week that would effectively fund its Mexican border security by a punitive doubling of the visa fees paid by a handful of India-based global IT providers, to bring in engineers to do the tech jobs that their American clients are unwilling or unable to do for themselves.    The provisions  have been framed in a manner that will selectively affect top Indian IT services players while excluding American companies like Google or Microsoft who also use these visas in significant numbers.

It would be a grotesque joke – except that the people who dreamed up this bizarre scheme have already got past the half way mark before the US government passes this bill into law. Charles Ellis Schumer, the senior Senator from New York and a member of the ruling Democratic Party who moved the bill, said on the Senate floor: “The emergency border funds will be paid for by assessing fees on foreign companies known as chop shops that outsource good, high-paying American technology jobs to lower wage, temporary immigrant workers from other countries…These are companies such as Infosys.” Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri gloated: “I’m thrilled that these companies are complaining about having to hire more Americans. That is the whipped cream and cherry on top of this sundae.”
We do realize that politicians everywhere need at times, to be seen making macho noises solely for the benefit of those who elected them – we have enough of the breed in India – but they usually manage to cloak, rather than expose their level of ignorance about the issues they select. The honourable Gentleman from New York may be familiar with that thriving American industry which calls for stripping apart stolen cars and reselling the parts – it might well be a significant revenue stream for some of his constituents. But it is unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of highly skilled, well educated young people who work with companies like Infosys, think of themselves as chop shop slaves. They earn some of the highest wages that Indian corporates pay. They go wherever their employers need their services – quite often to the less hospitable, often blatantly hostile reaches of the U S of A -- to do the tech tasks that corporate America and by extension the local talent pool is incompetent to manage on its own. 
Biting the hand that feeds American companies with the talent and skill that ensures fat dividends for their shareholders is nothing new. It is something that India’s top IT players have become innured to. It is an occupational hazard for doing business in the US. But it is not very often that the legislative halls of that country echo with so much uninformed rubbish, in so short a spell – with such quick results.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the reputations of the Infosyses and the Wipros of the world is unlikely to suffer even a minor glitch because cynical US Senators class them as chop shops. They will continue to do business with all parts of the globe, riding on the reputation they have built up for Brand India and its skill, talent and ethical work practices. They will cough up the $ 200 million or so that they will be asked to pay annually  in additional visa fees -- in the event that the House of Representatives decides to go along with the Senate and the bill becomes law. But at the end of the day, that pile of money is going to be paid by Americans -- because when Infosys and Wipro and TCS hike the rates for their work,as they must, their US –based clients are going to pay up without a murmur. Because, Mr Senator Charlie “Chopshop” Schumer, the skills that they bring are really not be had in your back yard – no matter how much they would be willing to pay. You know it. They know it. And President Obama who famously liked to say ‘ yes’ to Buffalo and “no” to Bangalore, knows it – by now.

- Anand Parthasarathy, Bangalore, Aug 9 2010