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The Cost Of India's 25k Employment Visa Rule

The Cost Of India's 25k Employment Visa Rule

May 31, 2011

According to the Indian government, the foreigner doesn't belong in this picture.

Please don't say we're done when I'm not finished. I could give so much more. -The xx – 'Heart Skipped a Beat'


A new rule regarding employment visas was implemented on November 1, 2010. It stipulated that any foreign national who wishes to attain an employment visa to work in India must be paid a salary of no less than US$25,000 – approximately Rs 1,100,000 at today's exchange rate.

With one stroke of a lawmaker's pen, my personal living situation was invalidated and corralled towards an abrupt and premature end. Upon my current visa's expiry date – July 6, 2011 - I will be required to quit my job and quit India. It will bring to a close three years of nurturing friendships, community bonds and a professional reputation. It will end my ongoing study in cross-cultural understanding that has taught me a great deal about what it means to be white and what it means to be Indian. In short, I still want India, but it no longer wants me.

I propose that this law change was driven by three governmental goals. One, to ensure that only skilled and qualified foreign nationals come to India to work and, more to the point, to prevent unskilled workers from entering. Two, to set aside all lower-paid jobs for Indian nationals in a bid to boost employment rates. Three, to benefit from the added national security such a rule imposes, in line with recent Indian immigration policy (see also the India tourist visa rule changes of January 1, 2010).

Let me try to address those three points quickly. In India, a salary of Rs 11 lakh p/a is high if you live in a large city and astronomical in provinical areas. Such salaries are generally confined to IT-sector jobs or management roles. As such, far from imposing a reasonable floor that will discourage low-level immigrants from coming and taking jobs that should rightly be filled by the aam aadmi, the rule limits employment visas to only elite and highly qualified workers (who, incidentally, could probably make the same money anywhere and thus aren't likely to stay long).

As for the notion of added security, a negligible percentage of foreigners who enter India do so with the intent of causing terror, and if a terrorist wants to enter India they will likely find a way to do so, strict visa regulations or not.

Assuming that the above reasons are the basis for the rule, it would appear as though the Indian government assumes that money is the sole purpose of employment, and possibly the sole purpose of breathing in and out. Those who come to India to work will supposedly only do so if it offers a positive financial opportunity (putting aside all the non-monetary attractions that this vast, varied nation offers). The extra taxes won't hurt the nation's coffers, either, even if they'll barely make a dent in India's trillions of dollars of national debt.

Money isn't everything, though.

Medical transcription admittedly isn't the most glamorous (or high-paying) industry. Still, I didn't come to India from Japan for the money or the prestige. I hoped to experience a culture outside my comfort zone, learning from and hopefully contributing to it whilst living and working within it. To my pleasant surprise, I've also discovered much about the world directly through the work I've done for two and a half years. My employers, for their part, took a chance on me and got a worker who learned the trade quickly and offered native speaker expertise that they couldn't really get from anyone else. I've been told that I contribute unique value to the company.

So, rather than investing in an exponentially better financial future for myself, I have made an emotional investment in Kerala, and in India - and I have reaped so much from it. My purpose in coming here, which I half expected to crash and burn within weeks, brought me untold riches. I've forged new connections with wonderful people both in person and, once I caught on, through Twitter. If that weren't enough, I've developed a set of new connections and knowledge in my brain that will inform the way I live far into the future. On top of it all, being in India – far from sending me back into the dark ages – actually led me to this platform with The NRI from which I could communicate and share with thousands more people than I might have otherwise.

Then there's the life I've made in the Varkala community, a small seaside town not given to welcoming or trusting outsiders for longer than a tourist-sized stay. It's taken a lot of time and effort, with attendance at an untold number of kids' birthday parties, weddings and funerals (which, thankfully, I never seem to get sick of). I believe that my presence in the neighbourhood is enriching not only to myself but also to those around me, and I try to live with an awareness of the ambassadorial responsibility that comes with living in a society which is both very foreign to me and in which I am an outsider representative of far-off lands.

Overall, the return on my emotional investment has been staggering. But that emotional investment, and the cultural capital I have accrued through these years of interaction, has wound up as collateral damage in an ill-defined war against forces that have very little to do with me. (There have been rumblings online that the ruling might be geared towards discouraging the influx of Chinese businesses and cheap Chinese labour. If that's the case, the war has absolutely nothing to do with me.)

As Incredible India forges ahead with its globalisation agenda through colourful tourism advertisements and increasingly high-stakes multinational corporate ventures, it seems that the government sees only the financial benefits of globalisation. The idea of a global community, in which people from different cultures understand each other better and work to communicate more effectively, is to my mind the human value that underpins the whole globalisation concept. It's sad, then, that with legislation like the 25k rule, India is effectively making the statement that the only foreigners they want to talk to are those that bring money. The idea of a culturally globalised India, one which better understands foreign perspectives and which is in turn better understood by outsiders, appears not to be a priority.

As the world turns and India (along with the other major developing nations Brazil, Russia and China) occupies a larger role in the global politics, its leaders, potentially on the cusp of a new age of prosperity, can choose to give that prosperity a global context by including outsiders in its cultural development. An intensive focus on finances, as demonstrated by the 25k rule, will insulate India from other cultures and necessitate the building up of a culture so strong that it can stand virtually apart from the rest of the world, influencing many and influenced by few, much as the United States has done for the past century. I struggle to see how that would work long-term, given India's present reliance on more affluent nations and its growing national debt. It might create an economic bubble, but not a lasting foundation for long-term economic success.

That foundation can, I believe, only be laid with a holistic approach. If you ignore an outsider's perspectives and insights and instead aim solely for their pockets, you disregard not only their multifaceted value as a human being but also your own. You betray yourself as single-minded. If, on the other hand, you keep an open mind when dealing with an outsider and allow yourself to consider all that they can offer, you both become considerably more appealing to them and have a better chance of creating a lasting connection, financial or otherwise.

Recently, I went on a day-long houseboat tour with a group of friends from work. We sailed around Akathumuri backwaters telling jokes, singing songs and sharing stories. Ultimately, I am an anomaly and my impact on the culture and society of Kerala and India isn't nearly as great as its impact on me. But on that day, and on many other days like it over the past two years, I truly felt like I belonged. It was a pure and unconscious cultural exchange in which no conditions were set and, in spite of varied skin colours, religions and languages, no individual was set apart from the rest. If I am unable to return to India, it is those days with cherished friends that I will miss the most. Such days are worth so much more than $25,000. 


  • Sooraj WillKev
    Sooraj WillKev
    03.10.12 01:50 AM
    Another option is, if you know how to read and write and speak Atleast one Indian language... You can get citizenship you know.... Considered that.. Have you??
  • Sooraj WillKev
    Sooraj WillKev
    03.10.12 01:48 AM
    I'm not too sure how the Indian immigration rule works, because being a citizen, I do not have to burn my head over it :-)

    Did you consider talking to some Christian missionary/ NGOs (non government organizations)?? Perhaps they could help you. Because the government often bends rules for these institutions.

    And perhaps if you could get a hold on some MLA or MP, it's a piece of cake :-)

    Or write a letter to the minister directly, for external affairs I believe... And tell him that you greatly desire to work in India :-)
  • Sooraj WillKev
    Sooraj WillKev
    03.10.12 01:41 AM
    Wow... Im truly sorry for you. I respect your feelings and your desire to further stay in India. And it is very much unwise to make such rules, because even without such rules, I've barely ever come across any foreign national who work in a lower position in India. Besides, if a foregner comes half way around the world to India, spending all that money, he wouldn't be poor lol.
  • Bronwyn
    04.04.12 02:02 PM

    Money isn't everything??

    I'm leaving.
  • MK
    15.10.11 09:58 PM
    Hi Morris,
    Its such a sad move by government for Indophiles all over the globe!! I recently came to know about it, as a very close friend is coming to India on 6 month visa as an intern. And in process of her getting extension, had a word with my contacts in MEA and they told me, its a reciprocity rule!

    Sad as it is, I would urge to look for other ways, there is always a legal recourse in India to circumvent the norms!! we inherit old archaic english rules- hence plenty of room for interpretations!!
    My best wishes,
  • himanshu
    21.09.11 12:34 AM
    It is directed towards (Chinese) corporations who had picked up power and infrastructure contracts and were bringing in a large number of chinese to do the labor.
  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    06.06.11 07:46 PM

    Having left India nearly twenty years ago, I haven't exactly stayed on top of the immigration scene. But my gut tells me that foreigners coming in to take over jobs that pay sub-$25,000 is not - *cannot* - be a major contributing factor to whatever problem this law purports to address. This is a terrible idea.

    You're right that the Indian govt is probably guilty of thinking of immigration exclusively as a financial matter. My story here in the US is a very small example of what a (relatively) open immigration policy can do to enrich a country in general, and its economy in particular. Its a big downer that the Indian govt doesn't share that view.

    Indian school children have it drummed into their heads the idea that, throughout history, India has always been able to "absorb" other cultures and influences and that is one of the things that makes us unique. I'm guessing we're now officially tired of being The Great Assimilator ;-)

    I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your pieces here on The NRI. I've always found them to be well written, insightful, respectful and honest. If you do end up having to leave Kerala, my very best wishes to you and pl keep writing.

  • Ann
    06.06.11 12:06 PM
    Mr. Morris,
    As a 1st generation American with Malayalee parents, I'm sad to hear you are leaving Kerala. Your descriptive writing regarding your observations on my summer home throughout childhood has always made me feel more connected to Kerala. Best of luck to you but seriously hope you manage to find a way to stick around.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    04.06.11 12:27 PM
    @Roy - I understand what you're saying, but it's my personal opinion that this law will have zero effect on the planning or carrying out of terrorist attacks in India.

    @RED HANDED - India is now and always will be a part of me for sure. Living here has changed my life. Thank you!

    @bhavesh, @Sagar Sen - am looking into all options at the moment... a busy month ahead!

    @AussieDesi - thank you so much for your support. The world is certainly more suspicious than ever, but we do what we can :)

    @anon - great idea, but I tried to use the MEA website but it made my brain hurt! What's the best course of action for getting the govt's attention? (No, fast-unto-death is not an option!)

    @Erin - thank you kindly dear, I hope to see you both again soon.

    @Perhaps - I have missed you - if you have found my writing smug and superior, I'm very sorry to hear that, but I take solace in the fact that you appear to be in the minority. Thanks for your ultimate wishes - but what? It's the mod's fault you said something childish? Come on now!

    @tys - incredible compliments. You are extremely kind, thank you.

    @Ankit - glad you enjoyed it :)
  • Perhaps
    03.06.11 11:41 AM
    Actually, it was a little irresponsible of the mod to publish my comment. In hindsight, it was childish. Much as I may disagree with the writing, I should not revel in another man's misfortune. I hope Mr Morris does find some suitable role soon and/ or is able to stay in India, if he wants to. Good luck to him.
  • Ankit Chaturvedi
    Ankit Chaturvedi
    03.06.11 03:10 AM
    interesting article to read and an eye opener for all including foreigners and Indians. Tweet me @rite2ankit on twitter to exchange more thoughts.


  • tys
    02.06.11 08:56 PM
    @perhaps: perhaps u shud go suck an egg...
    In wht sense has he ever been disrespectful? Ur comment is disrespectful...feeling smug in our indianness are we? He has a point worth considering...he is not a guest in our country but a contributing foreign national....he has shown more respect, love, acceptance and tolerance thn most of us do in a similar position.
  • Perhaps
    01.06.11 10:39 PM
    Perhaps it will teach you to write more respectfully about India and with less of a smug, superior attitude.
  • Erin Montgomery
    Erin Montgomery
    01.06.11 05:57 PM

    Sad news indeed. Truly enjoyed your article, especially its tone of neither contempt nor bitterness, but one of sombre acceptance falling into the reality of having to leave. I hope you are able to soak up these last few months, and know you always have a home in Seattle (or wherever Jason and I are). Cheers, bro...;)
  • anon
    01.06.11 04:08 AM
    Why don't you forward this letter to the union labour minister and foreign affairs minister? It may not be result in action, but at least you will be heard by the policy makers.
  • Sagar Sen
    Sagar Sen
    31.05.11 05:43 PM

    There is always an exception to a rule! I am sure you will find a way around to stay in India. I face similar problems here in France even with a PhD and a strong research record. I too have a large network of close friends and am well-known in the French rowing circuit as the only competitive Indian rower.Every year there are new rules to make it harder for me (and others) to stay here. We always find a way!

    Good luck,

  • AussieDesi
    31.05.11 04:08 PM
    Dear Barnaby
    I'd love it if we went back to the world where there were no immigration rules, and we could all travel and live wherever we wanted.

    Immigration policy in India, as in other places, treats foreigners wishing to enter/live/work in the nation-state with high suspicion. They will probably be terrorists, taking local jobs or abusing the system in many other ways.... These are common arguments around the world...

    What you may like to consider, however, (even though it won't alleviate your problems in the near future) is that one day the Indian immigration system will realise that there may be benefits to allowing foreigners to live and work in India, complementing the skills and abilities of its indigenous population - not threatening them. I'm not sure when that might be! (For example, Indian graduates are regularly ranked low in having the "soft skills" necessary to work in international companies; surely having the odd foreigner around might help?)

    In the mean time, can you set up a remote working base somewhere to continue your work, with regular business trips to India?

    Good luck
    Aussie Desi
  • bhavesh
    31.05.11 01:36 PM
    Hey Friend,
    Sad to learn what going on with you,inside and out.
    Though I am not sure,but hope there is always a student exchange program you can enroll for or a volunteer position you can seek,not necessary that you come only for a JOB.
    31.05.11 12:25 PM
    In short, I still want India, but it no longer wants me.

    This time i will not be saying that i loved reading your article because i dint. Its sad that you got to go. The Indian system is already shrinking because of the immense brain drain that is happening. The bright brains are going abroad and still there are employment hazards happening in here. Blame rests on the Population. The government wants to rest the seats to the resident Indian and while this takes place it forgets people like you who sacrificed a lot to be where they are. I know more of you who are leaving and they are pretty close to me. Regards and prayers!

    Hope you get back soon. You have an Indian in you somewhere or maybe everywhere :)
  • Roy
    31.05.11 10:45 AM
    Dear sir, I know u r hurt and I agree with u but I did not like the way u ridiculed the gov. intention. As u said terrorist will enter any how does that mean we should just sit back. The hedley episode proved that even western people may support the so this new visa rule came or again of course the china factor. U lived long enough to know how we respect visitors but plz understand our governments dilemma it's easy to govern billion plus community in democratic way. PLZ do not stop writing even if u have to leave. I love ur article.

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