America is excellent for its willingness to accept talented immigrants.
That’s what Nandan Nilekani, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys Technologies, would tell President Trump if he got the chance.
“If you really want to keep the U.S. … globally competitive, you have to be open to talent overseas,” Nilekani said on the sidelines of CNN’s Asia Business Forum in Bangalore.
Infosys ( is the second largest outsourcing company in India and a major recipient of US H-1B visas. The documents allow the technology firm to employ large numbers of Indians in U.S. jobs. )
The Trump administration is now studying major changes to the visa program. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January that Trump will continue to talk about H-1B program reform, among other things, as part of a larger push for immigration reform.
Visa restrictions could affect Indian workers harder.
India is the leading source of highly skilled labor for the U.S. technology industry. According to U.S. government data, 70% of the hugely popular H-1B visas go to Indians.
Shares in several technology companies in India, including Infosys, fell dramatically two weeks ago amid reports of an imminent crackdown on work visas.
Nilekani said it would be a mistake for the administration to follow him.
“Indian companies have done a lot to help American companies become more competitive and I think they should continue,” Nilekani said. “If you look at Silicon Valley … most companies have an immigrant founder.”
India’s contribution to the industry, especially at the highest levels, has remained extraordinary. The current CEOs of Google ( i )Microsoft (, for example, both were born in India. )
But Nilekani, who is also the architect of India’s ambitious biometric identification program, suggested that India ultimately benefit from the new restrictions put in place under Trump’s “America First” plan. . If talented engineers can’t go to the US, they will stay in India.
“This visa issue has always come up in the U.S. every few years, especially during election season,” he said. “Development work has actually accelerated [in India], because … people invest more to get the job done here. ”
Nilekani cited his own projects for the Indian government as an example.
The Bangalore-born businessman left Infosys in 2009 to run India’s massive social security program, known as Aadhaar. As a result of the initiative, the vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion citizens now have a biometric identification number that allows them to receive government services, execute banking transactions and even do biometric payments.
“It was built by very talented and committed Indians,” Nilekani said. “Many of them had global experience, but they brought that talent and experience to solve India’s problems.”
Nilekani said the country’s massive youth population is increasingly deciding to stay home and be a part of it.
“It’s India first,” he said.
CNNMoney (Bangalore, India) First published on February 13, 2017: 2:19 PM ET