Interview with

'80-90 per cent of consultants don't have appropriate documentation'Xavier Augustin of on the problems attached to H1B visas.

There are a million of them out there, each making an average of $ 50,000 annually. Put their annual incomes together and they are worth 50-100 billion dollars, which is almost 12-25 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product). And the world’s first H1B portal is addressing just this very powerful community.

“Just like when you want a book you go to when a US employee wants to recruit a foreign IT programmer, he should think of using”. That, in the words of  Xavier Augustin, President and CEO,, sums up his portal. He thinks there’s no big deal about getting into the US — “All you have to do is sit in a potato sack and get in from Mexico” — but getting a job is a different ball game altogether.

Today the H1B quota in the US might be 65,000, but in the year 2000 it could almost double to 115,000 — if a bill in this regard is passed in the US Congress. y-axis caters to the needs of these H1B visa holders, offering a large database of available jobs and other useful information. Augustin hopes that the site, launched in December 1999, becomes the standard recruiting tool of employers across the US. Excerpts from an interview 
with Kanchana Suggu

Why did you feel a site like yours was necessary?
I’ve been in the recruitment business for some time. I was involved in two aspects — one, recruiting consultants from India and marketing them in the US; and two, hiring people from India and placing them abroad for projects. I worked with two companies, Apple Soft and Mouse Trap. I realised then that recruitment wasn’t an easy task. My job would be much easier if I had a database wherein I could just make a query and a relevant list came up.

Also, it would be great if this list was not restricted to India. So I started off my work with a database of software professionals wanting to work in the US.

There is a big difference between having a H1B visa per se and actually finding a job there. All H1B workers are contract workers. After going to the US, these people are kept on the bench. It’s such a paradox actually because there’s a demand and supply co-ordination problem.

There is a problem of distribution, of ‘who is where now’ basically. That’s when I decided to build a database and a system that would integrate recruitment and placing in the US.

But the matter does not end there. At the core of it, it might look like just getting a job, but with that come a whole lot of issues. There is also an activity of re-orienting and documentation involved. There are a whole range of cultural things that come in when you recruit a H1B visa guy.

How does y-axis address these cultural problems?

We provide useful information like how to open a bank account, to use ATM, the general rules and regulations in the US, information about good Indian restaurants (for an Indian), how to find a room-mate, rents of apartments etc. We don’t have information about places worth sight-seeing. We provide important facts that an H1B visa-holder will seek.

How many people have you managed to sent to the US in these two months?

We don’t really ‘send’ people. People confuse us with a consulting company or a body shop. But we are not, we are just a medium. We provide a database that can be used to find the appropriate person for a particular job.

Don’t you get any feedback from the people who have gone there?

Not necessarily. Nobody cares to tell us what kind of a job they have got. Probably in future we might think of doing that. Currently, we only allow people to be found. We are a free site. If we start charging now, we won’t get enough traffic and that is primarily our concern right now.

You will eventually start charging?

Yeah, we are definitely going to charge the consulting firms.

How many page views have you had so far?

I’d like to value my company differently, I have my own measure. Visitors are easy to have and we have members who have signed up with us. Both don’t interest us. What we really want are users. That indicates whether the site is successful or not. In our database, we have about 1,300 members till date. The number goes on increasing every day.

What is your business model?

Our revenue could come in the form of subscription from consulting firms trying to manage their business on the Net. We provide a software to consultants through which they can have their own database. This database is integrated to the y-axis database. We lease this software to consulting companies and charge a monthly subscription fee from them. So even if we have say 1000-1200 consulting companies minimum and charge about 100 dollars a month from them, that means we make about 1.2 million dollars a year. Soon we will be having banners on our site and as I said earlier, we’ll also be charging from our members.

How large is your database?

We have more than 1,300 members registered with us. By members, I mean not just H1B consultants. Fresh graduates from US universities also sign up. We have consultants from all over the world registered with us. The H1B visa community is probably one of the richest in the Internet. Everybody wants a community that can buy — the whole idea is to try and sell something. If you look in those terms, the individual member’s annual income is $ 60, 000. So it’s a place where you can do a lot of e-commerce and, unlike any other community, they are the ones who are most connected to the Net. They are online 9-5. The general public has to log on, but this community is always online.

How different are you from other job sites?

What is unique about us is that we are a hundred percent H1B visa job site. All our services cater to H1B. If you go to any other job site, there is a whole new complication about documentation. But here, the employer knows that it’ll take at least three months before he actually sees the employee’s face. He is ready for everything that comes with him, that is, the documentation, relocation, cultural re-orientation. Then we have tech pages where we don’t just post resumes, we post profiles.

Our members have a homepage to themselves. You can also meet other members here. The recruitment and placing is integrated. The site allows you to recruit from a particular country and help place them in the US. No other site allows you to bring all these players under one roof.

Normally, when a H1B visa holder goes to the US, he is fully dependent on the consulting company for a job. At times, the consulting company may not have an appropriate job for the candidate. So these consulting companies start speaking to other consulting companies for a job. This is an ongoing process between almost 3,000-4,000 consultants in the US. But y-axis solves this problem since it is now becoming a B to B (business to business) portal between consulting companies. Consulting companies can exchange information through us. We want to become the largest and the most popular portal for the H1B and also the largest database for foreign workers. We want to become a standard recruiting tool for a US employer.

For example, if you want a Java programmer…(He runs a search on his laptop) See, the first one here is from California, the second from Pune. What you see here is that technology and expertise are the emphasis more than the nationality… (Still looking at the screen) Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Russia, Noida, Karachi — all in one list. No other site can deliver you a list of available Java programmers who want to relocate to the US on an H1B visa.

How large is the y-axis team?
We have 15 people — two are in the US and the rest in Hyderabad. We are going to increase it by another 30-40 in the next three months.

Will your database increase too?
Oh yes, substantially. We need to really start marketing now. Since we have a niche market, there are different ways of marketing. So we’re talking to a few agencies that can do the job. We have to go to different pockets because we are targeting several countries. We have talking to now. I think most of our traffic will come through alliances with country portals. We’ll also be speaking with other portals for alliances. We’re trying to become a gateway to America.
All this would require immense support from various country consulates.

Are you getting it?
I get a lot of support from the Indo-American Society based in Bombay. Once I get to some critical mark, I’ll have enough clout to talk to larger entities like government agencies. I am not doing it yet.

What about the debate in the US that foreigners are eating up their share of jobs? Aren’t you promoting that in a way?
I think this country could have been much richer had they looked at a foreigner differently. What you are hearing is only rhetoric. Every year there are such outbursts. The people there say, ‘Oh God, 65,000 visas!’, but see what’s actually happening. Has it reduced? It has actually doubled. This year, they’re gonna increase the quota to 115,000. It’s just some groups who make all this noise. It’s mere politics. But let me tell you that America does not work on such politics.

But do you foresee any problems from that side at all?
No, none at all. In fact, they will increase it. The US ambassador in Delhi was saying they’ll increase the quota to 1.2 million. America works through lobbying. Lobbying is such a powerful thing there that if they want to do it, it’s done. The establishment, the industry, they are all pro H1B. Everybody wants a Silicon Valley in their country. You can have a Silicon Valley in your country, but what you really need is the talent. You have to attract talent and tell them, ‘Please come’.
The AP government has these great roads and buildings, but is it attracting talent? In America, they are fighting hard to bring in these people. The H1B is a globe-trotting resource. The Japanese, the Europeans all are trying to compete for this scarce resource.

Aren’t Indians being used as cheap labour there?
I think this whole negative perception will change soon. The Indians are the second largest minority community in the US. Let me add that they are second largest richest minority. If they were not being paid well, then how come they are the richest minority? There is a labour stipulation called the prevailing wage rate. It is put on the LCA saying that you have to pay them this much wage, other wise you can’t employ them. So first is that they are the second richest minority, second, there is the prevailing wage rate, and third, they are all in the contract industry. The contract industry pays three times more. After the Chinese, the Indians are very entrepreneurial. They are the ones who have created more wealth. It’s not that in America you cannot start your own company. Indians have been very good at Internet technology. Almost 50-60 per cent of Silicon Valley companies is run by Indians. And I’m not talking about just employees. They are the people who run the company. So as I said before it’s just a perception.

What is the profile of people going from here?
You have all kinds right from coders to managers. Most of them are coders. People generally misunderstand that finding an H1B sponsor means finding a job.
I always say that getting into the US is very simple. But it’s really difficult to get a job, to get into the system. Lot of good graduates go. If you have junk going from here, then how will the consultant market them in the US?

Can you tell us a little about the San Antonio arrests?
The U S sometimes gets very picky and fussy about whether you are holding the right documents or not. All these workers had the required documents, but the problem was that the documents were issued for a particular area and, according to the law, you are supposed to work only within 50 square miles of that area. But this is a contract industry. You can’t always find a contract within 50 square miles. It could be somewhere in Texas, the next time it could be in New York, anywhere. The guy has no other option but to go there.

The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) wants everybody to reapply for a new petition every time, but this procedure takes three months. A contract could require the person to be present on the very next day itself. These laws were made much earlier, for doctors and lawyers, not for IT professionals. But they’re trying to bring a new visa called T1 visa — technology visa. It takes care of such problems. Americans can be really fussy at times. There are rules there for crossing the road etc. They can even put you in jail if you don’t cross the road at the zebra crossing. There are strange laws in America.

When will we be seeing the T1 visa?
That will still take some time. Only talks are going on right now. It’s still in the very preliminary stage.

That means people are still moving around illegally?
I think 80-90 per cent of consultants don’t have the appropriate documentation. Even if they do have the necessary documents, they are not updated to that new area. It’s just one odd case that gets arrested. The INS just does it as a symbolic thing.

Do you ensure that such a thing does not happen with your members?
It’s not possible. A new law has to be passed to solve all such problems but that will take some time.

Today, most jobs can be done sitting right here in India. What future do you anticipate for the H1B?
For a critical job, they want you out there. We are talking about important software components for a large corporate, we are talking Fortune 500 companies. They want the guy sitting right in front of them if it it’s a mission-critical job, in case there is some screw-up. They don’t care what it costs, they just want the guy out there.

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