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Narayana Murthy vs IT industry: Who is right on visas?

columns Updated: Apr 09, 2016 09:36 IST

Infosys chairman emeritus and co-founder NR Narayana Murthy(PTI Photo)

NR Narayana Murthy is an elder statesman of India’s software industry, which is close to $150 billion in size. As someone who played a key role in placing the industry on the world map, he should be defending it, but here he is, taking some potshots at its practices.

Maybe that’s what India’s family patriarchs are supposed to do. But the younger ones are not exactly amused.

Speaking at the Indian School of Business last week, the 69-year-old Murthy shed political correctness (which he was never famous for anyway) and said that Indian IT companies were acting like “immigration agents” by luring software workers with the promise of a US visa or Green Card. On-site work - a reference to work done in the premises of overseas clients or nearby offices of Indian IT companies -- is a big perk for India’s software engineers.

Murthy suggests more local hires by Indian companies in export markets, even as he speaks of a future where Indians based in India could do 95% of the service work from home (offshore), as against the current rate of 70% or so.

Read | Indians held in fake US university sting, hundreds face deportation

There are industry murmurs against Murthy’s words, and this is not the first time.

Some years ago, the industry veteran had suggested that India’s tax-exempt software exporters should in fact be paying taxes. Now, as somebody out of active office in the industry, his tongue has only grown sharper.

But it is pertinent to tell him that it is okay for business people to use baits to retain staff, as long as they are ethical and legal.

In the IT industry, talent is at a premium, and foreign postings are considered plum. Whether Murthy likes it or not, getting Indian programmers to slog for global clients involves dangling of incentives that matter to the workers.

On another note, Murthy may be saying something that the Americans just want to hear, given the fears that outsourcing to Indian companies steals local jobs away from US citizens. His utterances may be good for the industry’s image overseas.

The comments of the Chairman Emeritus of Infosys should be seen in the context of the rise of protectionist Donald Trump in American election politics.

It may be a good idea for India’s software barons to make the right noises to be seen as truly global – even as India remains a competitive base for both quality and cost-effective information technology. Murthy’s comments should be taken as a call to adopt a good, clean approach to sending IT professionals abroad.

We may take heart from the fact that Murthy’s comments come in a week when US authorities have unearthed a visa fraud through a sting operation in which they created a fake university to trap wrongdoers.

Brain Drain is good for India when it brings back precious dollars. While honesty remains the best policy, there’s nothing wrong with work visas that carry the rosy edges of a Green Card.