Disgruntled British and American workers who complain about their jobs being outsourced to India may just be able to get them back. But they will have to move to India. In a bizarre twist to India's outsourcing success story, a big shortage of qualified workers may force employers to hire staff from Europe and the United States because there simply will not be enough Indians available with the right skills. Since the late 1990s, scores of mainly US and British firms have farmed out back-office work such as telemarketing, call handling, payroll accounting and credit card processing to countries such as India, where wages are low and skilled professionals are plenty. Western companies have been able to cut their costs by between 30 per cent and 40 per cent by moving such work to India. The nation now employs about 350,000 people in back-office roles, adding 150,000 new jobs each year. But filling those vacancies is proving increasingly difficult. 'Most applicants lack fluent English and communication skills, knowledge of international practices and advanced computing skills. Of every 100 applicants, only eight or nine are any good,' said Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom). The chief executive of one outsourcing company in New Delhi said the problem was both quantitative and qualitative. 'Only a fraction of the three million graduates produced by India each year are ready to be employed. Their English just isn't good enough,' he said. Nasscom is so concerned about the supply of competent professionals that it has begun to work with Indian universities to ensure the outsourcing industry gets the skills it needs. But the shortage is good news for foreigners. Industry experts say that Indian firms will be forced to recruit workers abroad - and not just those with good English. A report by research firm Evaluserve says the industry will need 160,000 professionals with European languages by 2010. Only 40,000 Indians are expected to have this specialisation. The remaining 120,000 jobs will have to be filled by Europeans or other foreigners. The demand for fluency in a variety of languages comes from the fact that many Indian outsourcing firms have expanded beyond back-office and call-centre services for just US and British firms. Eighty per cent of the work comes from these countries, leading to fears of over-dependence on these markets. As a result of branching out, more work is now coming from European companies with the same needs in their own languages. Most jobs will require ability to speak either Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish or Russian. Equally essential will be the cultural background and familiarity foreigners bring to these posts. Cultural sensitivity is very important in outsourcing, even in simple call-centre work. It takes on even greater significance in more complex tasks such as underwriting and legal consultancy. Only 30,000 to 50,000 foreigners are working in the software and outsourcing industries in India, but the current shortage is bound to result in that figure rising. Some top Indian software companies, such as Wipro and Infosys, already have a substantial number of foreign staff. But will foreigners be prepared to come and work in the outsourcing industry? Recruitment agencies think so. 'Exposure to a fast-growing business economy is probably the reason why young foreigners are happy to work here,' said Kris Laxmikanth, chief executive of Head Hunters India in Bangalore. If the cycle comes full circle and Indians start grumbling about foreigners taking their jobs, Evaluserve has reassuring news: While part of a project for a European firm will be done in the language of that firm's home country, the bulk of the remaining work can be managed by English-speaking Indians. It claims that for every job created for a foreign-language professional, two new jobs will be created for Indians. That sounds like a recipe for happiness all round.