Thursday, May 27, 2010

Are all Immigrants with military background a suspect?

In my previous blog post, I mused about how the renewed threat of terrorism in the west is impacting innocuous globe trotters, businesses and immigration. There is another angle that seems to be picked up by the Indian media this week: former and serving members of Indian security agencies, defense service, border guards and others seem to be routinely denied visas by Canadian Embassy in India.

The fact is most western countries including US, Canada and European countries routinely deny visas to citizen of ‘third world’ and developing countries on grounds they could be prospective immigrants who (probably) will overstay their legal visas if granted. Many applicants have little recourse but to hire dubious ‘visa consultants’ or middlemen who advertise immigration services in classifieds of newspapers across south Asia. Most such cases of visa rejection don’t make news: a visa, even visitor’s or business visa to the US is still a coveted document!

The case of Indian veterans being denied visas to Canada is intriguing. The reason given by Canadian embassy for rejection is on grounds that they had served in a "sensitive location" of Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. While talking up the issue in media, Indian bureaucrats seem to be treading on thin ice.

Questions that still go unanswered

  • Was the denial of visas to Indian veterans of faux paus by an overzealous visa official or a Canadian government policy of equating Indian Army and border guards with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or north Korean army that were cited as axis of evil?

  • Does a country (A) have a right to ask another sovereign nation (B) to reconsider visa applications to citizen of Country A? Media reports on retaliation “One way to retaliate would be to deny visas to Canadian officials who go to Afghanistan via India, said highly-placed sources.”

  • If we go with the vague presumption that Indian military personnel and veterans who had served in "sensitive locations" are somehow “guilty” and “not worthy” of visas to western nations, one would have to apply the same argument to veterans of most other nations. Citizen from countries that have mandatory military service wouldn’t be able to receive visas from western countries . . .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Prospective Immigrants Presumed Guilty until proven innocent

Presumption of innocence - being considered innocent unless proven guilty - is a legal right recognized by most modern societies, a fact those of us living in the west take for granted. Not so when it comes to presumption innocence of immigrants.

One can say that in a perverse kind of way, prospective terrorists and fundamentalists are wreaking havoc in the lives of global citizen, guest workers, temporary workers and immigrants. Just a couple of facts from recent times:

* Path to citizenship and legal permanent residence is get more arduous as those applying for naturalization and permanent residence in western countries including the US, Canada, UK, Europe and elsewhere – are increasingly being “presumed guilty” unless they and the respective security agencies – FBI, CIA, RCMP, Scotland Yard et al - can prove otherwise. Implication of this is clear: tighter and more rigorous scrutiny and background checks, leading to backlog and waiting time for majority of (innocent) applicants while authorities try to scan for ‘prospective’ black sheep.

* Additional fingerprinting, bio-metric checks, secondary inspections and other scrutiny while crossing international borders. In the mid-nineties, when I began my career as a global tech-worker, my colleagues and I could pack our bags, get a confirmed booking, land in host countries and walk through immigration with cursory checks, as long as we had a valid visa and passport. I guess those were innocent times. Now, the frisking and scrutiny begins at the point of departure. Airports resemble fortresses with menacing armed guards, and even airlines’ security consider us a threat unless they are satisfied we are not. Nobody, not even public persona are spared the ordeal of (excessive?) scrutiny and checks. Remember how Indians were incensed when their beloved VIP’s former President Abdul Kalam and Shahrukh Khan were subject to search and scrutiny during international travel a few months ago? Frequent glob-totting executives, including self, realize that the few strories reported in the media are just tip of the iceberg!

The technologist in me sometimes muses on how newer, maturing technologies including e-passports, national biometric ID cards, interlinking national and international security databases are just a few examples of technologies that could make life simpler for prospective immigrants, guest workers and travelers. However, as with adoption of most new technologies in public realm, broad political support is necessary. Some in the west, fearing additional intrusion of Orwellian Big-Brother are opposing wider adoption of tools and modern technologies that could perhaps mitigate the annoyance innocent immigrants and global travelers face.

One can almost be certain that recent incidents in the west, including Jihad Jane, the saga of Naturalized Terror suspect etc will only make life a bit harder for global citizen.

How one wishes one could move back to more innocent times?!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ethics and Globalization of Businesses: Business Government and Society 101

Harvard University recently Prof. Nitin Nohria as dean of its influential Business School. Prof. Nohria has been active in promoting business ethics, a value that seems more relevant now than at any other time in the past. This move by a premier business school is timely. There is an urgent need for business leaders to learn to focus on crisis management and to reflect on their values, ethics and transparency. Business, Government and Society 101, along with fundamentals of ethics and transparency is (or should be) required reading for future business leaders. Case in point is the automotive value chain where crisis after crisis seems to be playing out in the global circus

A year after major auto makers in America went bankrupt, prompting the federal government to step in and bail them out, Toyota was making headlines with runaway cars and quality problems. This month Toyota ceded its spot on national headlines to BP.

Managing crisis while in a global media spotlight is not an enviable task for any executive. A few facts, based we are seeing and reading in the media:
* BP says it will pay for Gulf spill's cleanup. It is certainly pulling all the stops in crisis management. Too bad the attempt to use the oil containment box technology failed this week, right in front of us and the global media
* The US Government and most other major oil companies are pooling in resources, technologies and brainpower to attempt a solution. It is a matter of time, but till then we will continue to watch the drama unfold

Observing the drama in the Automotive industry unfold, I began reflecting on how technocrats in my industry - the offshoring tech sector - got a first-hand lesson in Business Government and Society during the restructure of offshoring giant Satyam after the accounting scandal a couple of years ago. A few key lessons in crisis that could apply in most scenarios:

  • Start with a clean mea culpa during the first 72 hours. There is nothing the media and public loath more than the ‘big ugly faceless corporation.’ If you are at fault, the first thing your senior executive should do is to say ‘I am sorry’

  • Managing the media: We live in a 24 X 7 world in which the media, aided by web 2.0 technologies bring information to consumers round the clock. One cannot ‘manage’ the media without participating in it. Of course the question executives may ask themselves: “Should I shut up and focus on the efforts or address the impact of political and media onslaught?” Surely large companies facing crisis should try and address the diverging goals of stakeholders. With billions of dollars and access to a wide spectrum of experts, they should also do more than one thing at once: share information with media, bloggers and public WHILE fixing the problem.

  • Government is a key stakeholder, and can be an ally. Government is also composed of politicians, whith their vested interests, lobbies and political constituencies. Managing expectations of governments – Federal, state, local – is as important as managing media and public perception during a crisis.

Bottomline: Though it is too soon for us to be looking for lessons in the current crisis, managers of tomorrow are certainly looking to learn their way out of disasters