How Easy is it for Foreigners to Find a Job in Chennai?

How Easy is it for Foreigners to Find a Job in Chennai?

- in Expat Advice
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foreigners and expats finding a job in india

I’ve been speaking to a number of people recently who come from various backgrounds but they all have a few things in common: One, they are a foreigner in India; two, they are a trailing expat spouse; three, they want to find a job in Chennai.

So how hard is it for non-Indians to get a job in Chennai or even in India?

Like so many things in India, the answer is: it depends. If you force me to give you an answer though, I’ve got to say that it is very difficult to almost impossible. But I don’t know your background and circumstances, so I could be wrong.

Firstly, let’s talk about why it’s so hard for foreigners to find a job in Chennai (and the same applies for anywhere in India).

The Visa Situation

If you’ve come to India on any type of visa that isn’t an Employment Visa, then you can’t work in India. You can’t even volunteer for a charity organization, because it’s considered employment in India.

Even if you are in India on a tourist or business visa and manage to find yourself a job, you must leave India and return to your own country (or any country you have had a permanent residence in for more than two years) and apply for an Employment Visa. You need to provide various paperwork about the job and the company in order for the visa to be granted. You can then return to India and start your job, but you must register with the FRRO within 14 days of your arrival. This brings me on to the next challenge…

Your Job Must Pay More Than USD $25,000

I honestly have no idea why the Indian Government decided on USD $25,000 as the minimum when it can fluctuate against the rupee. Maybe it provides the bureaucracy one more reason to reject your visa if your salary in rupees is right on the borderline and if the rupee depreciates slightly against the dollar, it puts your salary under USD $25,000. Still, if your monthly salary is less than 140,000 rupees a month (Rs 16,800,000 per year), I’d be worried about falling under that $25,000 minimum.

I’ve seen some talk in various expat forums that the $25,000 salary rule is no longer in force. However, the latest document from the Ministry of Home Affairs clearly states that as of 2014, there is a USD $25,000 minimum salary.

There are a few exceptions to the minimum salary rule. If you are a chef with regional culinary experience, if you are a teacher of non-Hindi or English languages, or if you are an embassy staff, the salary requirements do not apply to you. For volunteers working at charities and NGOs, the charity must be registered with the Indian Government and in good standing, and you cannot receive an allowance of more than Rs 10,000 per month.

In context of how much USD $25,000 translates as a salary in India, you need to look at how much a company in India is paying a local person to do the same job. To do that, it pays to look at the income tax filing stats released by the tax department.

income tax in india infographic

First, out of the entire population of 1.2 billion people, just 1.5% pay income tax. That’s about 19,000,000 people. That means that just 19,000,000 are in the formal economy and earn enough money to pay tax.

Sidenote: There may be far more people earning enough to pay taxes, but are in the informal (read: cash) economy, and therefore don’t have a need to declare their income – which is illegal, of course. However, I doubt that many foreigners are going to be in the position of working in India for cash-in-hand.

Of that 1.5% paying income tax, 93.3% of employees earn between 1 and 10,000,000 rupees per year. That’s 17,727,000 people and leaves 1,273,000 people earning above 10,000,000 rupees per year.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the number of employees in the formal economy that earn in excess of 16,800,000 rupees per year is incredibly tiny. It would put you in the top 6.7% of salaried employees – or in the top 0.1% of the entire country.

Of course, there are plenty of companies in India that pay people in excess of 16,800,000 rupees per year, but these people will be highly skilled, experienced, and specialized, and probably have attended the best universities in the country. For the vast majority of workers in India, they can only dream of earning 16,800,000 rupees a year.

So the second point I’m trying to make here is: Will you be providing so much value to the company that they are willing to pay two, three, four times more to you than they would to a local person? If your area of work is entry level or lower to middle-management without an insane amount of specialization, then the answer is likely to be no.

Likely, but not impossible.

This brings me on to the third problem with finding a job in India as a foreigner.

Proof That Your Job Cannot Be Done by a Local Person

The hiring company in India must prove that it has made a thorough attempt to find an Indian person to do the role that they have chosen you for. Again, an entry level job or something in lower to middle-management is going to be a very tough sell to the immigration officer that only a foreigner could perform that role for the company.

There will always be exceptions, of course. Training is one area that springs to mind.

What constitutes not being able to find a local person is open to debate. When I was on an employment visa, I provided screenshots of the job adverts my company posted on various job sites as evidence of looking for a local person. You could go one step further and have your unique skills and abilities incorporated in to the job description (do you speak a language other than English? Make that language a key requirement in the job description).

I’ve known several people who have been tripped up by this rule. They’ve got a job, received their Employment Visa, arrived in Chennai and were then refused permission to stay by the FRRO because they didn’t have any evidence that the employer looked for a local person to do the job. Their Indian adventure came to a premature end.

How Are Foreigners Supposed to Find a Job in Chennai?

As with most things in India, the way to find a job in Chennai as a foreigner is through your network and who you know. If you know someone who’s running a small business and she’s open to hiring you because she knows you’ll be a great addition to her team, despite being able to hire someone local for half the price, then you’ve got a much better chance of finding a job.

I’ve worked for two companies in Chennai. At the first company, I knew the owner. At the second company, I was just in the right place at the right time. Many of the younger expats that I’ve known got jobs in the same edu-tech company. The company would go to a prestigious university in the UK and hire 3 or 4 graduates each year for a 12 month contract. In this case, the company would run year-long job ads in the newspaper seeking candidates with specific degrees from specific universities in the UK and used it as evidence of seeking a local person with the right skills.

Sending out a resume to local companies in the hope that they are looking for a foreigner is a long shot. Not impossible though. I know of at least one person who got a job this way. However, she was an investment banker in London and she applied for similar roles at financial companies in India. Her specialization and past experience made her a very compelling candidate for companies here and she got interviews and ultimately, an offer of employment.

Another long shot is to apply to multi-national companies that have a presence in Chennai (or whichever city in India you want to work in). For example, Amazon employs a huge number of people in its Chennai offices. They are always bringing over people from outside India for short and long term work. Potentially you could find a HR contact at Amazon (in the US?) and tell them that you want to work for them and are willing to relocate to their office in Chennai. This would then become an internal transfer (you’d still need to leave India and get an Employment Visa) and makes the process much simpler. I’ve personally never heard of anyone that has gone down this approach, but please let me know if you know someone who has!

Finally, if you are married to an Indian person, then you can apply for your Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. Aside from visa-free entry to India and the option to live in India indefinitely, it also means you can work in India without the restrictions of an Employment Visa. There are no salary requirements and no paperwork for the company. You are, however, still considered an international worker and must contribute to your Provident Fund at a far higher rate than Indian citizens.

Can I Just Start My Own Business in India?

Yes, you could start your own business, but you must do it with an Indian citizen. A number of expats have done this, especially ones with OCI cards.

However, If You Have Been Lucky…

Finally, if you, or someone you know, has been lucky enough to find a job in India without going through a network of personal contacts, please let everyone reading this article know in the comments box below. How did you go about your job hunt? How many jobs did you apply for? Do you have special skills which made you a desirable candidate for companies in India? Where are on the corporate ladder?

People are dying to know your story!

4 Comments

  1. Fascinating piece with great info. I think I’ll stick to being a Trailing Spouse!

    1. Peter Claridge

      Thanks, David. It’s such a shame that dependents are not allowed to work, or even do volunteer work, without meeting the individual requirements of an employment visa.

  2. It is though, but there is a way to work around the 25k rule. My company has unfortunately figured this out! Wish I was getting one of those 25k salaries but am on an employment visa (with RP) now with a much lower salary. I have also worked on a business visa before and got paid in cash.

    1. Peter Claridge

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! I imagine there are several workarounds (company pays you excess salary and you return it to them in cash?). Working on business visa is another one I’ve heard about, but there has to be a lot of trust between the employee and employer that the cash payment will be honoured each month, not to mention the business needs to show paperwork about who it’s paid in cash each month (unless the business is run on cash).

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