Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Now, India to outsource jobs to American firm
David Colker

India has taken thousands of American jobs through outsourcing. Now it's giving a few back.

The Indian Government plans to outsource processing of visas (visitor documents, not the credit cards) from its embassy in Washington, D.C., to an American-based company.

A top embassy official wouldn't say whether the 40 staffers who do the jobs now would be laid off. Many of them are Indian nationals.

“We are not going to let too many go,” says Gautam Bambawale, head of political affairs at the embassy.

University of California, Berkeley, Professor Harley Shaiken, who specialises in labour issues, says the move “is really a man bites dog kind of story. It's a small irony in an otherwise serious situation.” He says outsourcing of technology help lines, accounting work and even medical procedures played a significant role in the $11.7-billion U.S. trade deficit with India last year.

“It's nice to know that they retain us when it comes to processing visas,” Shaiken says. “Of course it would be better if it was in automobiles or textiles.” The rush of businesspeople to India is one reason why the Indian government needed to overhaul its visa processing service. About 1,50,000 U.S. residents applied for visas to India last year, tripling the number in 2000.

The embassy began running a classified ad in The Wall Street Journal this week seeking U.S. companies “for outsourcing visa collection and delivery.” “The objective,” Bambawale says, “is to make our whole operation more efficient, smoother and quicker.” AFL-CIO executive Bob Baugh says turnabout is fair play —sort of.

“I'm all in favour of something that employs American workers,” he says wryly. “It kind of makes up for all those call centers.”

LA Times-Washington Post