Talk about contrasts. Go visit Montevideo, Uruguay – the serene coastal city which has a very healthy software/ IT sector. Notice something very important: The country’s policy makers and IT sector leadership get it. They fully understand and have digested one of the core facts around the state of global, technology-fluent human capital. The fact I’m referring to is – when your country does not have enough talent to meet demand, then it should liberalize its immigration policies and permit talented individuals to enter the country and help grow the country’s tech sector.
Uruguay, with a population of about 3.5 million people, has made it easy on global services providers to import labor to meet skills requirements. Processing of applications is done quickly and employees can work while government agencies push through the proper residency paperwork. It should be noted that Costa Rica has adopted a similar “open door” policy, which can be directly attributed to the soon-to-be-announced arrival of yet another tier one global BPO player, which is setting up an operation in San Jose. (Chile, through its well-regarded StartUp Chile program, also has fairly progressive immigration policies for knowledge workers.)
The professional experiences of the newcomer can have material benefits in the collaborative work settings common in today’s global IT centers in Latin America.
Another way of saying this is: In our 21st century lives, it’s vital that countries start to drop the pretense that leaders are supposed to constantly ‘protect’ citizens from outsiders, and recognize that some outsiders often have enormously important gifts to bring to the host country. (The United States – for all its myopic and politicized immigration policies – has managed to become a worldwide model for accepting and integrating people from foreign lands.)
The newcomer not only brings directly value, but the ancillary benefits of training of colleagues in niche areas is hard to discount. The professional experiences of the newcomer can have material benefits in the collaborative work settings common in today’s global IT centers in Latin America.
Contrasting with Brazil
The reason why I made mention of contrasts at the beginning of this commentary is because Uruguay’s policies are almost completely opposite to those of its neighbor to the north, Brazil. While Brazil’s very identity is one of a mixture of Indigenous, European, African and Asian settlers, the country has a rigid stance toward immigrants. (Further details on Brazil’s policies can be found here.) Despite a growing demand for talent within the country’s vast boundaries, little is being done to enable tech employers to import labor to keep pace with demand.
The issue has become so acute that it was one of the main points of discussion that Antonio Gil, President of Brasscom (the country’s IT exporters’ industry association) addressed during Brasscom’s Global IT Forum in Sao Paulo last year. Gil – in his uniquely colorful style – expressed persistent bewilderment that a country so rich in ethnic variety would be so restrictive on welcoming newcomers – who undoubtedly bring with them innovative new ideas and skills.
Part of the reluctance of course is managing a country of three or four million (in the case of Costa Rica and Uruguay), is nothing like trying to govern a nation of over 205 million.
Brazil has deep-rooted social and economic challenges, and clearly politicians are fearful that such problems could only get worse if newcomers arrive in the country and put further strain on government-sponsored social safety nets.
Paying Attention to IT
It is important to note that Brazil’s political leadership is in fact paying attention to the IT sector in other ways. The long-anticipated Plano Maior program goes into effect this week – setting in motion a series of important goals to stimulate the IT sector. Among them is the goal of training 50,000 new IT workers by the end of 2014. The country – including the vocal leadership at Brasscom – should be applauded for accelerating the IT sector which will have spill-over benefits to virtually all areas of society.
The demand for talent, of course, is not going away. In our view, it often is the software/QA firms in the global services industry that are at the leading edge of finding crafty and unique ways to tap talent – regardless of slow-moving governments and restrictive policies.
Governments like Uruguay and Costa Rica are smart enough to get ahead of the issue and enable – rather than block – the flow of digital commerce that will continue to be the benchmark for success in this still very young century.