Speaking at the International Bar Associations 6th Biennial Global Immigration Conference, LawQuest founder and managing partner Poorvi Chothani said foreign companies often took a cavalier attitude to compliance with India’s immigration laws, risking reputational damage, potential bans on trading and poor employee morale as a result of the threat of deportation. “It’s hard to understand how they are taking such risks,” she said.

Chothani spoke as a member of a panel made up of lawyers from all five BRICS markets, as well as three representatives from economist Jim O’Neill’s newly christened MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) jurisdictions. In Se Legal’s Shalini Agarwal chaired the debate.

Maria Celebi of Bener Law Office in Instanbul drew weary amusement from the panel when she said “I am sure everyone here has had the experience of speaking with a client who says ‘I heard that X company did it this way, let’s do that,’ expecting emerging jurisdictions to be easy to negotiate.”

Chothani agreed, saying that lawyers in India had to frequently remind HR professionals from foreign companies of the kind of advanced planning necessary to achieve proper compliance: “Western companies have a sense of entitlement, like the red carpet will be rolled out for them.”

In fact, regulatory enforcement in India has stepped up considerably in recent years, with more comprehensive use of IT infrastructure to track and share data, in contrast to what Agarwal said was a popularly held perception that there are very few checks on compliance in India.   

Chothani also noted a lack of understanding among foreign companies. India recently abolished its mandated two-month gap between consecutive tourist visits to the country, a rule that was never applied to business visas, and yet she said she still had questions from clients about the two month rule.

The immigration lawyer’s role is to bridge the gap between the enforcers and the HR departments of foreign companies, Chothani suggested, noting that India still welcomes foreign companies.

A question from the floor asked whether there was any backlash in the Indian immigration system following the ungracious treatment of Indians in the US holding L-1 visas. “No, we are still treating Americans nicely,” Chothani said.

The conference concludes today.