American presence at India's campus placements this year will be conspicuous by its absence. Apart from Facebook that isn't visiting any of the IITs, most US companies that do not have operations in India have not registered for placements at the country's tech schools. There's no trace yet of Twitter, which paid big bucks in the last recruitment season. Slot Zero, the promising opening day of campus placements on December 1, has probably never looked less American.
While most students and faculty members were tight-lipped about the no-show of American companies, several job aspirants said the US visa issue last year was a great concern and many American companies that hire in large numbers—and with big pay packets—had decided to stay away from Indian engineering college campuses now. Last year, the annual quota of 65,000 H1-B work visas were snapped up by job-immigrants even before graduating techies had their first degree in hand, forcing many to take an unpaid vacation to work at the US companies' India offices or fly to another country for a year.
Smart IITians who fear a similar repeat occurrence this time around are filling up forms and making alternative profile plans, both local and international.
"There are more Japanese firms coming to IIT-Bombay than companies with operations solely in the USA," said Avijit Chaterjee, chairman of IIT-Bombay's placement cell. Japanese firms like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Uhuru Software and Sony Japan have made their way to the top slots.
Apart from that, the bad economy has seen little attrition; most companies said they have fewer vacancies to fill.
IIT-Madras placement advisor Babu Viswanathan said getting a US visa was a big problem last year but it is too early to say if there will be a "noticeable drop" in students who will be offered a profile in the US this year too. "Also," he cautioned, "companies can have a change of mind and may decide to come anytime during the placement process."
Sources at IIT-Delhi said, "Two large IT companies with operations in the US are not coming; that is our biggest loss. But there are about five new international companies coming for the first time, including some Japanese ones."
Comparing notes over dim sum, graduating students at IIT-Kanpur underwent a semester-long language course. Students picked up the Japanese language and a few finer details of Japanese culture so that they are better prepared for interviews. By January, this college will release a placement brochure in Japanese, apart from one in English.
The placement team in Kanpur has forecast that technology, politics and economic factors will alter the geographical distribution of companies coming on their campus and a multi-lingual placement brochure— with students' profiles in German, French, Japanese and English—will be released from next year.
Among the American companies that have promised to come this year are gaming company Pocket Gems, Epic Systems, Rocket Fuel and Tower Research. Then there are US firms like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Schlumberger that have registered; however, they will pick fewer candidates, many for their India offices. "These companies have a good relation with the campuses and they may come and pick a student or two," said a student on the placement committee.
There was a time when computer science students were high currency; they were plucked by companies that offered them dollar dreams and flew them out no sooner they graduated. This year, with not many greenbacks arriving, candidates from other branches are feeling the heat too. "If CS students are all not going to get absorbed by IT firms, consulting and finance companies are going to fall over each other to bag them. That is going to affect candidates from other branches that are not so popular," said a student.
Clearly, many things are working to alter the placement landscape. Recruitment season on Indian campuses, said an optimist placement member, is going to get a more global flavour.