IT support services firm Caleris has this message on its homepage, "Outsource to Iowa. Not India," against a picture of a corn field and farm houses.
Caleris' message could not be clearer. The company is competing from rural Iowa, with its lower cost-of-living, against India's offshore providers, and those in many other countries as well. But Caleris' founders, Sheldon Ohringer and Rick Grewell, two native Iowans, believe the U.S. Senate's comprehensive immigration bill may help them.
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The bill, released this week, seeks restrictions on the use of H-1B and L-1 workers, and will likely raise the costs of offshore IT service providers.
Ohringer hasn't lobbied elected officials about his firm, which was founded nine years ago with 25 workers and has since grown to 400 in four different centers. He isn't versed in the details of the Senate bill, but he understands the intent. "If the costs go up to do it in India or offshore, that is a positive for us," Ohringer said.
One bill provision in particular prohibits users of a large number of visas from having more than 50 percent of their U.S. work force on a temporary visa, the so-called 50-50 rule.
Wells Fargo, in a recent research note released before the Senate bill, said the 50-50 rule could hurt operating margins and reduce the earnings per share of offshore providers by 1 percent to 5 percent next year.
Brian Keane, the CEO of IT services company Ameritas Technologies, said the Senate bill will be good for domestic IT providers. "Encouraging U.S. IT development "is the right thing for the United States for maintaining its technological self-sufficiency," Keane said.
Ameritas opened its first center in Baton Rouge in July. Brian Keane is the former CEO of Keane, a $1 billion IT services company that became a subsidiary of NTT Data Corp. in 2011.
Ameritas and Caleris officials believe they are already competitive with offshore providers, when total costs, including productivity, are considered.
The Senate bill faces an uncertain future. Although the tech industry is pleased with the increase in H-1B visas in the bill, from a 65,000 base to upward of 180,000, the industry isn't happy with the bill's enforcement provisions and requirement that employers recruit U.S. workers prior to hiring visa holders.
Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis and a leading H-1B critic, summarized the Senate bill, in his recent newsletter, as an overall "disaster," for U.S. STEM workers (science, technology, engineering and math). He pointed to the "massive" H-1B hike and loopholes in the bill.
The IEEE-USA, which wants permanent residency for visa holders instead of temporary visas, questioned why there was even a need to raise the H-1B cap. The group said the restrictions on H-1B use by offshore firms would free up visas for U.S. tech companies. But despite the intense debate in Washington, analysts say any effort to restrict H-1B and L-1 visa use may do little, if anything, to change the fundamentals of offshore outsourcing.