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Home Economy 'America First' could turn into 'India First'

‘America First’ could turn into ‘India First’

America is great for its willingness to accept talented immigrants.

That’s what Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of billionaire Infosys Technologies, would say to President Trump if he had the options.

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

Infosys (INFY) is India’s second largest outsourcing company and a major recipient of US H-1B visas. The documents allow the technical company to hire a huge number of Indians on American jobs.

The Trump administration is now considering significant changes to the visa program. Spokesman Sean Spicer said in January that Trump would continue talks on reforming the H-1B program, among other things, as part of a larger immigration reform movement.

Visa restrictions could hit Indian workers hardest.

India is a leading source of highly skilled labor for the US technology industry. According to the US government, 70% of the extremely popular H-1B visas go to Indians.

Shares in several Indian technology companies – including Infosys – sank spectacularly two weeks ago amid reports of an accelerated break in work visas.

Related: The technical industry is pushing for Trump’s visa reform

Nilekani said it would be wrong for the administration to follow.

“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 … most companies have immigrant founders.”

India’s contribution to the industry – especially at the highest levels – is huge. Current CEOs of the company Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT)for example, both were born in India.

Related: India has panicked over US plans to change highly qualified visas

But Nilekani, who is also the architect of India’s ambitious Indian biometric ID card program, has suggested that India will ultimately benefit from any new restrictions placed under Trump’s “America First” plan. If talented engineers can’t go to the US, they will stay in India.

“This visa issuance always occurs in the U.S. every few years, especially during election season,” he said. “It actually accelerated development work [in India], because … people invest more to do business here. ”

Nilekani cited the Indian government’s own projects as an example.

The Bangalore-born entrepreneur left Infosys in 2009 to run a massive Indian 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 ID number that allows them to receive government services, execute banking transactions and even execute biometric payments.

“It was built by extremely talented and dedicated Indians,” Nilekani said. “Many of them had global experience, but they brought that talent and experience to solve Indian problems.”

Nilekani said that the massive youth population in the country is increasingly deciding to stay at home and move in.

“First is India,” he said.

CNNMoney (Bangalore, India) First posted February 13, 2017 at 2:19 PM ET

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