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India tells U.S. firms: Take this job, please

March 03, 2007|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

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 to a U.S.-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," said Gautam Bambawale, head of political affairs at the embassy.

UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken, who specializes in labor issues, said the move "is really a man bites dog kind of story. It's a small irony in an otherwise serious situation."

He said outsourcing of technology help desks, 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 said.

"Of course it would be better if it was in automobiles or textiles."

The rush of business people to India is one reason the Indian government needs to overhaul its visa processing service.

About 150,000 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 said, "is to make our whole operation more efficient, smoother and quicker."

AFL-CIO executive Bob Baugh said turnabout was fair play -- sort of.

"I'm all in favor of something that employs American workers," he said wryly.

"It kind of makes up for all those call centers."

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david.colker@latimes.com

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