‘America first’ could become ‘India first’

What is the H-1B visa?

America is great because of its willingness to accept talented immigrants.

That’s what Nandan Nilekani, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys Technologies, would tell President Trump if given the chance.

“If you really want to keep America … globally competitive, you should be open to overseas talent,” Nilekani said on the sidelines of CNN’s Asia Business Forum in Bengaluru.

Infosys (Infi) It is the second largest outsourcing company in India and a major recipient of US H-1B visas. The documents allow the tech company to hire a large number of Indians in the US.

The Trump administration is now considering major changes to the visa program. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January that Trump would continue to talk about reforming the H-1B program, among other things, as part of a broader push for immigration reform.

Restricted visas hit Indian workers the hardest.

India is a major source of high-skilled labor for the U.S. tech industry. Seventy percent of the popular H-1B visas go to Indians, according to U.S. government data.

Shares in several Indian tech companies, including Infosys, tumbled two weeks ago amid reports of an imminent crackdown on work visas.

Related: The tech industry backs Trump’s visa reform

Nilekani said the government was wrong to hold out.

“Indian companies have done a lot to help American companies become more competitive, and I think that should continue,” Nilekani said. “If you look at Silicon Valley … the founders of most companies are immigrants.”

India’s contribution to the industry – especially at the top – has been disproportionate. Current CEO Google (Google) and Microsoft (Microsoft Corporation)for example, they were all born in India.

RELATED: India alarmed by US plan to change high-skilled visas

But Nilekani, who is also the architect of India’s ambitious biometric identity scheme, said India would ultimately benefit from any new restrictions imposed by Trump’s “America First” plan. If talented engineers cannot go to US, they will stay in India.

“This visa issue comes up every few years in the U.S., especially during election season,” he said. “It actually speeds up development [in India], because … people are investing more money to get the work done here. ”

Nilekani cites his own project for the Indian government as an example.

The Bangalore-born entrepreneur left Infosys in 2009 to run India’s sprawling social security scheme, known as Aadhaar.Thanks to the initiative, the vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion citizens now have a biometric ID number, enabling them to receive government services, perform banking transactions, and even conduct biometric payment.

“It was built by very talented and committed Indians,” Nilekani said. “Many of them have global experience, but they use that talent and experience to solve problems in India.”

Nilekani said the country’s large, young population is increasingly choosing to stay at home and participate.

“India first,” he said.

CNNMoney (Bangalore, India) First posted Feb 13, 2017: 2:19pm EST

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