THE FOREIGN INVASION by PLANETE BALLOON

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The foreign invasion

Halime Tastan doesn’t have the time to feel homesick. The diversified consultant on all things Turkish has her hands full with the increasing number of expatriates arriving in India.

“I love India,” says the Bangalore-based Turkish national, whose company deals with tourism, entertainment and consulate consultancy. She added dental tourism to her business after her fiancé Hayati Dasbileck, a dental technician from Antalya in Turkey, arrived in the southern Indian city a year ago. In the four years that she has been in India, Tastan has seen her compatriot population grow from three to 55 in Bangalore alone.

Tastan and Dasbileck are part of the steadily growing number of foreigners heading to India for jobs and business. The first lot of foreigners in India worked in the hospitality and information technology and related industries. The second phase saw an upsurge of foreigners in the aviation sector. The third wave consists of foreign professionals in fields as diverse as infrastructure, extreme sport, social sector, manufacturing, luxury market and export-import businesses, to name just a few.

“India is a very attractive job destination globally,” says Sunil Goel, director, placement agency, Global Hunt India Private Ltd. In the past five years, he says, there’s been a flood of queries for jobs in India from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asian countries in the automobile, infrastructure and investment banking sectors.

So keen is the interest in opportunities in India that expat-blog.com, a website that covers 233 countries, lists 168 nationalities spread out in 11 destinations in India. Its jobs section has seen a flood of queries from young people in Europe and elsewhere looking for openings here. According to a spokesperson, most of its members are from France, followed by the US and Spain.

Propelling the flow of talent into this emerging market are shrinking job opportunities in contracting economies in Europe and the US, as well as the India growth story that is now seen to add lustre to global resumes.

By virtue of global companies setting up shop in India, location is no longer an issue. “From the Asian perspective, we are in a good position, thanks to talent, cheap labour, infrastructure and costs advantages,” says Anthony Devadoss, vice-president, APAC, Kelly OCG, an international talent services company. “In the hotel that I was staying at in Bangalore, I was the only Indian at the breakfast buffet,” says Devadoss, a Malaysian of Indian ancestry.

India also has an open door policy for company chiefs, unlike in many other Asian nations where there is growth but local talent must head organisations, he points out.

In recognition of the growing number of foreigners living and working in India, foreigner’s registration offices (FROs) in cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Cochin and Thiruvananthapuram have been upgraded to full-fledged regional offices. Foreigners working or living in India for longer than six months have to register with the FROs.

According to a government official who declined to be named, the total volume of traffic has almost doubled, with approximately 23 lakh registrations in four years (from 12-odd lakh earlier). Business, jobs and dependant applicants account for 15-20 per cent of the newcomers.

For people working in multinational firms, which have been sending foreigners to India for long on work, the country is no longer viewed as a hardship posting. French national Olivier Jacquier, who has chalked up two years as general manager with Volvo’s Group Trucks Technology in Bangalore, says he was keen to be posted here.

“I wanted a real foreign experience with my family,” says Jacquier, whose wife and three young children have accompanied him. “India is booming and there are better career prospects with Volvo in a country where it is doing big investments. Since India will become a major country for automotives in the coming decade, we should get in early.” Jacquier is one of Volvo’s 36 (mostly European) expat employees here.

For Indian employers, expats are in demand for their expertise in fields such as project management. With businesses getting more complex and competitive, employers need experienced hands from outside, especially in sectors such as infrastructure.

Take the Chennai Metro Rail project. “There are a limited number of experienced people in this field, and so we have to hire foreign professionals who are familiar and knowledgeable in building metro rails,” stresses an official from Embye, the general consultants for the Rs 15,000-crore project.

The official says the project funders, the Japan International Corporation Agency, also make it mandatory to hire people with international metro rail experience. The Chennai Metro Rail has employed people from New Zealand, Australia, the US, France, the Philippines, Ireland and Greece. “They demand and get the salaries they want which are comparable to those in the West,” says the official.

Indeed, living in India is not the same as it was two decades ago. “The salary structure has changed in India and matches what mid-level managers get abroad,” says Shiv Agrawal, managing director, ABC Consultants. “India offers high-end homes, malls, foreign brands, multi-cuisine, etc. which make an expat’s life more comfortable.” Factor in good schools and lower living costs, and expats end up with a better lifestyle in India than that back home.

Goel stresses that the “growth story of India and China” is also driving foreigners to opt for jobs here. Global MNCs are setting up large captive research and development or backend centres which provide good job opportunities for expats.

Yet the economic slowdown in the West is not the only reason for the foreign influx. Take Viviane Stéphan, director, VS Luxe Promotion, who’d spent most of her life in France, working in the luxury hotel industry. Three years ago she came to Mumbai and set up her own company.

“India is familiar with luxury with its tradition of maharajahs. I knew there was a market to explore, especially tourism, and I wanted to get in early,” says Stéphan, who positions overseas boutique hotels for Indian tourists. “My story with India is a love story where the heart took over reason,” smiles Stéphan, who had earlier visited India for business and vacations.

India became home for 40-something American Shawn (who goes by one name) in 2006 when he set up a call centre and trading company in Chennai. He chucked up a well-paying marketing job and moved to India to “make his own way”. “In India, history is being created with young people going through a rapid cultural change. I want to be in the centre of the new world order and that is India,” he says dramatically.

For many expats, India is not just the story of industrial growth. Foreigners are looking for — and mining — open fields in diverse sectors. American Bob Swaggerty, a freelance broadcast engineer, who started a radio station online called chennaichristianradio, was sent to India to train young people in audio post-production.

Belgian Peter Van Geit, who came to India to work for a manufacturing company, has now started his own trekking club in Chennai. And French national and professional pilot Jean-Cristophe Brassart has brought his Planete Balloon, a hot-air ballooning venture, to India. “India offers a new market in tourism. France is the most visited country around the world and we can bring some of our expertise to India,” says the Frenchman who shifted operations from Rajasthan to Bangalore this year.

India’s own concerns about its economy don’t worry the expats either, who say they have seen worse. Jacquier laughs when asked if he’s anxious about India’s GDP outlook contracting from 9 per cent to 6 per cent: “People say ‘only’ 6 per cent — that’s a figure Europe can only dream of. I am not worried, for the economic cycle always goes up and down. But there is confidence in this market.”

Clearly, patience is the key to India for the guests who are digging in their heels for the long haul. For Tastan, who worked with the official Turkish delegation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the fact that her native country is upgrading its diplomatic missions in India and bringing its biggest companies here means more business. But there’s more. “Personally, I cannot think of leaving India. I can die here,” she says simply.

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