Offshore Outsourcer Patni Braces for H-1B Visa Restrictions As It Expands in North America

Offshore outsourcer Patni say the high U.S. unemployment rate has enabled it to increase its American presence at a low cost, but looming immigration and H-1B visa reform could put a crimp in the company's U.S. expansion plans.

By Stephanie Overby
Tue, June 15, 2010

CIO — Naresh Lakhanpal is spending a lot of time in airports these days. The executive vice president of Mumbai, India-based outsourcer Patni Computer Systems isn't headed east or west so much as he's travelling north and south throughout the Western hemisphere.

As president of Patni Americas, Lakhanpal has opened up or acquired delivery centers for the outsourcer in six North American cities in the last six months, including brand new operations in El Paso, Texas and Queretaro, Mexico. The activity is part of the $656 million service provider's plan to increase its presence in the Western hemisphere and become an "any-shore" outsourcer offering a menu of onshore, nearshore and offshore options. The company says the plan is driven by customer requirements for same time zone support, multi-lingual requirements, and a more favorable business climate for offshore outsourcers who wish to expand in the U.S.

Today, almost 20 percent of Patni's 14,000 employees work stateside, and the vendor now maintains delivery centers in almost as many cities in the Americas as it does in India. Of the 2,800 Patni employees working outside the subcontinent, 2,300 of them sit in North American locations including Cambridge, Mass., Bloomington, Ind., and Milpitas, Calif. The Mexican center Patni opened in April to serve the Latin American market currently employs 40 but is slated to grow to a 300-person shop. Patni has plans to triple headcount at its El Paso center, which currently employs 100 IT and BPO professionals who perform a range of insurance, financial services, and IT support, as well as an English-Spanish help desk. In April, the company acquired four Florida back-office administration centers—and 250 employees—from health insurer Universal American.

One challenge to Patni's U.S. expansion, however, are immigration changes currently proposed in Congress. Patni estimates that 60 to 65 percent of its U.S. employees are foreign nationals who hold temporary visas, like the H-1B and L-1. Lakhanpal says the company doesn't seek out U.S. workers for specific roles and Indian employees for other roles. Patni's H-1B visa holders working in its American offices possess a variety of skill sets ranging "from management to engineering," says Lakhanpal, who was born in Montreal, got his undergraduate degree and MBA in Texas, and previously worked in management positions at Deloitte & Touche and Ericsson (ERIC).

"We have the ability to hire the best and brightest appropriate for the role, so we're not going to restrict some jobs to a certain class of people. There are no restrictions."

Lakhanpal says the company has had no problems procuring H-1B or L-1 visas for its staff, but it is concerned about the impact of potential immigration reform, which could force the company to hire more U.S.-born American citizens. "We're preparing for the immigration rules that we see coming down pike," he says.

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