Business & Tech

Indian IT giant Infosys plans to add office and 500 jobs in Providence

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Infosys President Ravi Kumar spoke after a news conference in Providence on Monday.
Michelle R. Smith/Associated Press
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Infosys President Ravi Kumar spoke after a news conference in Providence on Monday.

With its focus on outsourcing and use of visas to import overseas tech workers, Infosys Ltd. has been at the center of the country’s immigration debate.

But the giant India-based information technology company is trying to significantly increase its reliance on American workers, and Rhode Island will be the latest state to benefit from this hiring surge.

Infosys unveiled plans on Monday to open a new office in Providence, one that would employ at least 500 people within five years. In return, state officials say they will provide about $10 million in tax incentives.

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Infosys is a major provider of outsourced IT work and one of the biggest users of the H1B visa program that allows foreigners with specialized skills to work in the United States.

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In the face of criticism from President Trump and others that the H1B program costs Americans jobs and undercuts wages, Infosys in May said it would hire 10,000 US workers over the next two years. It has already announced plans for large expansions in Indiana and North Carolina as part of that effort. With 2,000 additional jobs at each location, both of those projects are larger than what’s planned for Providence.

Infosys president Ravi Kumar said Providence’s concentration of universities was one of the biggest factors behind the decision to locate there. Infosys plans to recruit from a number of local schools for many of those new jobs, including the Rhode Island School of Design and the Community College of Rhode Island.

The pressure to find local talent will be immense for a company that has relied heavily on H1B visa holders. An Infosys spokesman confirmed that none of the 500 jobs promised to Providence will go to visa holders.

Immigration lawyers say these visas have been much tougher to get under the Trump administration.

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Berin Romagnolo, a partner at Posternak Blankstein & Lund in Boston, said the federal government’s tighter controls could pose a challenge to Infosys’s business model in the United States. The Trump administration hasn’t unveiled major reforms to the H1B program yet, she said, but applicants for existing visas have faced more stringent vetting this year.

“Infosys has used a ton of H1Bs historically,” Romagnolo said. “Infosys has been one of the reasons why they’ve been citing the need for the crackdown.”

Vincent Lau, managing partner at the Cambridge law firm Clark Lau, which specializes in immigration matters, said the federal government has taken a particularly hard line on whether computer and IT skills are in short enough supply to allow an overseas worker to come here under one of these visas.

“Maybe that’s why they’re hiring more domestically, in some sense to avoid this challenge and avoid the headaches,” Lau said of Infosys.

Kumar, the Infosys executive, also said support from Rhode Island played a key role in choosing Providence, though the company has not settled on a specific location.

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Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island’s commerce secretary, said his office reached out to Infosys several months ago after learning about the company’s goal of hiring 10,000 American workers. Before that outreach, he said, Rhode Island wasn’t on the company’s radar.

For Governor Gina Raimondo, the Infosys announcement represented the largest pledge of jobs tied to the state’s “Qualified Jobs” incentive program. Pryor said Infosys probably will be eligible for $8.5 million from that tax-credit program if the company sticks to its local hiring goals.

Another pledge came from Virgin Pulse, which plans to add 292 jobs in Providence and move its headquarters there from Framingham. General Electric, Vistaprint, and Johnson & Johnson are among the program’s other beneficiaries.

Pryor said the tax-credit program, which essentially reimburses companies for a portion of the new income taxes they generate, has helped state recruiters overcome the stigma that Rhode Island was an economic backwater when it had the worst unemployment rate in the country several years ago. Now, its unemployment rate is similar to the national average.

“Our reputation lags behind so . . . it’s important that we ensure a transaction makes sense to a company,” Pryor said. “Routinely, it’s the case that we’re going head to head with states that are likewise deploying incentives.”

Andy Rosen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.