Monday, October 29, 2007

To All H1B Seekers – Beware of Hidden Traps

Ever since I wrote the post “Evil Called Desi Consultants”, I get lot of emails and comments in my blog asking me advice in identifying good consultants that sponsor HIB for jobs in USA. The main thing I have seen in those chats is that most people who apply for H1B visa from India are not aware of all the rules and various “traps” associated with this. This post is intended as a guideline for all those applying for H1B visa from India. First I would like to talk about 2 of my friends who were cheated in the whole H1B process last year.

This friend P was my colleague in a software company I worked in Chennai. He changed few companies since then – all in the hope that his new company will send him to his dream land – US. All his attempts to come to US through the company he was working failed. So he decided to apply for his H1B visa through a consultant. He was working in Chennai and he was talking to an agent of the consultant based in Hyderabad. The consultant offered him great deals ($80,000 per year, 1 year paid vacation and full pay on bench etc etc). For the consultant to file for his H1B, he had to pay 3 lakh Indian rupees (approximately $8000). He decided to file his H1B through this consultant. A representative of the consultant came over to Chennai and collected the money from him. There was no proof of the money transfer between my friend and the consultant. The consultant informed him that he has filed his H1B on April 1st. This year US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) received almost double the number of H1B applications and they employed a lottery system to select 65,000 H1B visas.

One fine morning in July the agent of the consultant called and informed that he couldn’t make it through the lottery. The agent promised to pay him back the money as soon as he gets the money from the consultant back in US. This was the last he has heard from the consultant. My friend did all the talking over phone to the agent of the consultant and now that number is not working. He was royally cheated by some thug. He doesn’t even have any proof of the money he gave to the consultant. I still cannot believe how a person can give Rs. 3,00,000 to some one without any proof. Maybe he was thinking about the dollars he is going to earn once he lands in the US and made him lose his common sense.

This is about another of my friend S. We stayed in the same mansion in Chennai. He was working in a good software company in Chennai with a good pay even when I was in India 6 years back. He was not that interested in coming to US. I believe his wife and he could be earning around Rs 80,000 to Rs 1,00,000 per month in India and he was very happy with that. With that salary you can lead a royal life in India. But his problem in his own words “however good you are in your work, if you don’t have an US experience you don’t command respect from colleagues and you are constantly looked down in a group that has people who have work experience in US”.

So to command respect from his colleagues my friend started looking out for consultants that can apply for his H1B visa. He landed with a consultant and he ended up paying around Rs. 2,00,000 to process his H1B visa. He was lucky to get through the lottery and he was very happy about it. So far so good. This September end he went to US consulate in Chennai for visa stamping. He got a 221g from the Consulate asking him to produce the end client letter. He got in touch with the consultant for the new document, they told him that they are just a start up company, they don’t have a client now and it is tough to get such a letter. He is kind of resigned to the fact that he cannot go for visa stamping with this consultant and asked them to pay back the money he gave them for H1B filing. They told that USCIS has already taken the money and they cannot return the money.

For my friend P he lost his money and visa while the friend S just lost the money. My understanding is that friend S can still transfer his H1B to a different consultant and go for a visa stamping. I am sure these stories are not isolated ones. Software engineers in India trying to come to the US may have hundreds of stories like this to tell.

DO’s and DON’T’s

I am a firm believer that these kind of “traps” can be avoided if one uses ones common sense and does some research before paying the money. Most of them who apply for H1B visas from India get carried away by the lucrative prospects the consultant tells them prior to applying for H1B visa and get money from them. The applicants thus blindfolded, believe the consultants and fall into their trap. Here are some pointers you can follow and thus avoid getting cheated.

  • Paying any consultant for your H1B is illegal by law. If a consultant asks for money to file for a H1B visa, understand one thing – they are in this business to make some quick bucks with zero investments. Bottom line – NEVER PAY A PENNY TO A CONSULTANT FOR H1B. If you pay and get a H1B at some point there is a good chance that it make come back and hurt you.
  • Before you select your consultant for filing H1B visa do some basic homework. The easiest way is to Google search and you may be able to find more about the consultant. You may be able to hit upon some positive or negative comments about the consultant. But when you do that beware of few things – Consultants may write good reviews of themselves and post it in the internet to fool a prospective employee. Also another thing, some shady consultants do change the name of the company often or some of the consultants may have more than one consultancy. When a consultant finds that his consultancy is blacklisted by the USCIS the easiest thing for him to do is to start another company with another name. So if the Google search returns no result or only a good result don’t think the consultant is good. This is just the first step. The consultant “may” be good.
  • Once you find out that the consultant “may” be good, the next step is to try and find out someone who has worked/working with that consultant. With the advancement in information technology it may not be tough to find someone who actually works for the consultant. If possible talk to them over phone. Try to avoid accepting offers from consultants who just started their business. Any permanent resident in US can start a consultancy and most of the times the thought of quick bucks make them do that. Lack of professionalism will be hallmark of such companies and try your best not to join such companies.
  • If the consultant who is going to hire you doesn’t care about your educational qualification, your experience etc and tells you that you are sure to get a well paying job and doesn’t conduct any interview before hiring you in their consultancy, then you are in for trouble. Those consultants just need “human bodies” and not your expertise.
  • Another thing I have noticed about people applying for H1B visa from India. They will tell “Let me first somehow land in US through some consultant and then once I am in US somehow I can manage something better”. This attitude makes them pay for the visa and file H1B with shady consultants. This way of thinking not only invites trouble for them but denies another genuine candidate who has a “real job” in hand, a visa.

Before taking all the pain in India to apply for H1B through these consultants just remember thing one – With the declining dollar value and increasing job opportunities in India is it worthwhile to land in the US with a visa sponsored by a shady consultant, sit on bench for a long period of time and struggle to get a job?

Related Post: H1B Visa – It is Skilled Job Visa and Not Cheap Labor Visa

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on Solving Kashmir Issue

In the 60 years, since India got independence, we have progressed much as a nation. Now we are a developed country among the developing countries. If we look back there is all round development in almost every field. I sometimes use to think – If there was no Kashmir issue and no arms race with Pakistan how much more developed our country would have been. We have wasted lot of our resources to fight against Pakistan in the issue of Kashmir.

The following essay was written by me and my friend Padmakumar. This was written to be submitted to an essay competition and I thought it would be appropriate to publish our thoughts on solving the Kashmir issue. It is a long post and a few people may find it little radical and difficult to digest.

History of Kashmir issue:

The roots of the Kashmir issue dates back to the time India and Pakistan got independence from the British Empire. At the time when India and Pakistan got independence, Kashmir, predominantly a Muslim state was ruled by a Hindu king, Maharaja Hari Singh. The king could not decide which country to join and he signed a “standstill” agreement with Pakistan Government which helped Kashmir to maintain services such as trade, travel and communication intact with Pakistan. The law and order in the state of Kashmir started deteriorating soon after independence and the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the controversial “Instrument of Accession” with Indian Government on October 26, 1947 which made the whole of Kashmir part of India. Pakistan had contested the accession and was never ready to accept the new pact between the Maharaja of Kashmir and Indian Government which they believed was signed by the King under duress from India.
India and Pakistan fought two full fledged wars over Kashmir. First war started in October 1947 after armed tribesman from Pakistan’s North Western Frontier province invaded Kashmir. The war ended on 1st January 1949 under the supervision of United Nations which suggested that India and Pakistan conduct a referendum in Kashmir which never happened till now. Second war was fought in 1965 that ended with Indian and Pakistani leaders meeting in Tashkent in January 1966, where they declared their commitment to solve their disputes through peaceful means.

India and Pakistan fought another war in 1971 that resulted in the formation of Bangladesh. After the war the leaders of both countries (Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and President Z A Bhutto of Pakistan) signed the famous Simla Agreement which called for both countries to solve their issues through bilateral discussions. It was agreed to recognize the existing boundaries between India and Pakistan as “Line of Control”.

Even after all these wars and accords the hostility between the two countries has worsen. By the year 1998 both the countries have joined the elite nuclear club. Now a war between these two countries will have disastrous consequence to the whole world and it is high time to take concrete steps to solve the 60 year old Kashmir issue. This essay looks into the major players in this issue, suggests a possible solution and explains the practical difficulties in implementing it.


Present scenario:

Lot has changed in the world since India and Pakistan got independence in the late forties. The world has moved towards a unipolar world with US as a single super power, Berlin wall that separated East and West Germany has come down, new technologies have brought the world close together but nothing much has changed as far as the Kashmir issue is concerned. The issues remain the same and the political players of those issues have changed over time. Let us now see the major players in Kashmir.

a) Indian Government – Indian Government and major Indian political parties that contest elections in Jammu and Kashmir like Nation Conference (NC), Indian National Congress (INC), communist party and BJP to name few. The Indian Government and all these major political parties want to solve the Kashmir issue within the frame work of the Simla Agreement and they want the separatist to first accept Indian constitution as a precondition for talks. They believe that Kashmir was an integral part of India and no force could ever take that away from them. They consider Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) - as Indian government claims or Azad Kashmir - as Pakistan government claims to be a part of India.
b) Pakistan Government – Pakistan government claims that Kashmir should be an integral part of Pakistan for just one reason. Majority of the people in Kashmir are Muslims and Pakistan being a Muslim country should have control over Kashmir than secular India.
c) Huriyat meaning “freedom” in Urdu is an organization fighting to liberate Kashmir from Indian control. There are two factions of Huriyat – one lead by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a moderate leader who advocates independence for Kashmir and another faction led by Ali Shah Gilani who favors accession of Kashmir to Pakistan.
Even though attempts have been made to solve the Kashmir issue for decades, no serious efforts are made to bring all the 3 above mentioned parties together. It is true that the moderate faction of the Huriyat is talking to Indian Government and there are talks going on between Indian and Pakistani Government but no serious talks have taken place with all these parties together. The discussions held so far didn’t involve all the movers and shakers of Kashmir politics and as a result a solution has evaded us.

The main concern towards a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue is the inability of the three major players to have any compromise on any of their previous stated stands. Indian Government wants talks with Huriyat to be within the framework of Indian constitution and also India is not ready to talk anything about any kind of sovereignty to Kashmir or accession to Kashmir. Pakistan believes that any decision other than complete accession of Kashmir to Pakistan is not an acceptable solution for them. The Huriyat on the other hand wants to somehow liberate Kashmir from Indian control.

The first giant step for solving Kashmir problem would be to back off from their rigid stand they have been taking for years and start the dialogue afresh. This gesture will create an atmosphere of good will and trust among the three parties concerned.

Some of the gestures the three parties should do for the smooth conduct of dialogues are summarized below. The Pakistan Government on its part should identify all camps used to train Kashmir militants in the area under their control and take steps to close them. India on its part drop its age old demand that they will talk to Huriyat and other militant group within the framework of Indian constitution. The Indian Government should withdraw the entire armed forces from Kashmir. Huriyat on its part should stop all its anti India rhetoric and declare a ceasefire with the Indian Government to pave way for talks.

Now after all the parties involved have made a compromise from their previously stated position dialogue should start. The key here is that all the 3 parties should be involved in the talk and all should start the talk in a clean slate.

Solution:

India and Pakistan could agree to merge both Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Indian Kashmir into a single province and make it into a single self governing province. Other than the foreign affairs and defense ministry all other ministries should be under the control of the new Government elected by the people of the newly formed province. To conduct the first election an interim body should be constituted which should be accepted by all the concerned parties. Establishment of such a body is very important as this will increase the faith of the people tremendously in the whole exercise. The military and foreign affairs will be the responsibility of India and Pakistan Government. The law and order inside the new province will the responsibility of the new Government and it will be done by the police force recruited from among the people of Kashmir. The military to protect the borders of the new province will have officers from both India and Pakistan. The head of this military unit could be held by India and Pakistan in turns. This unit of military will take orders from executive wings of both India and Pakistan. It can be considered a neutral zone where both India and Pakistan Government has control.

India and Pakistan Government on their part should be earmarking a part of their annual budget for the new province so as to improve the infrastructure of the new province. All the existing cases against the militants should be referred to a tribunal set up by the elected Government and those who have not done serious crimes against Kashmiris should be set free. The people who were displaced - like Kashmiri pundit, due to the war should be allowed to return back to the valley. The people from the newly formed province should be given preference for the Government and other jobs in the state. If a suitable candidate could not be found in the new province then citizens of either Pakistan or India should be eligible to take up the job. Both the Pakistan and Indian Government should encourage the successful entrepreneurs in their countries to set up business in the newly formed province.

Difficulties in Implementing:

The main difficulty in implementing the solution described above is the lack of mutual trust between the three parties involved in the conflict. It is not easy to wipe away the mistrust developed over a period of 60 years. The present generations of Indians and Pakistanis have grown up hearing “hatred messages” against each other. It will be extremely tough for the people of India and Pakistan to digest the concept that an army can be made from the personnel of both countries. To implement these decisions it requires a strong political will from the Governments of both India and Pakistan. The lack of single leadership for all the militants will make things tough. Even if Huriyat agrees to the terms of the agreement some other group can start fight against the Kashmiri state by setting up training camps in Pakistan. It has to be remembered that North Western Province where lot of these training camps are located, Pakistan Government has little control – which makes closing these training camps a very difficult thing to achieve. The selection of interim body to conduct the first election to the new state of Kashmir can land in problem given the differences between the parties in the past.

Conclusion:

“Being Flexible” is the key in solving Kashmir problem. All parties should accept the fact that there cannot be a permanent armed solution for this six decade old problem and the only possible way to have a solution is through talks with all parties concerned. During the talks it is a must that all parties have to abandon their age old stance and take flexible stance taking into account the changed world scenario. When that happens, Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan will become part of history.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

My Interview with Kerala Blogger Community

I was recently interviewed by Kerala Blogger Community. Kerala Blogger Community is an attempt to introduce the people behind the popular Kerala blogs.You can read the full text of my interview by clicking here
Uyarangalilekku by Brijesh Nair

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