America is great because of its willingness to accept talented immigrants.
That’s what Nandan Nilekani, billionaire co-founder of Infosys Technologies, would tell President Trump if he had the chance.
“If you really want to keep the United States… globally competitive, you have to be open to foreign talent,” Nilekani said on the sidelines of CNN’s Asian Business Forum in Bangalore.
Infosys ( is India’s second largest outsourcing company and one of the largest recipients of US H-1B visas. The documents allow the tech company to employ a large number of Indians in the United States. )
The Trump administration is now considering making significant 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.
Visa restrictions could hit Indian workers hardest.
India is the leading source of highly skilled labor for the US technology industry. According to US government data, 70% of the hugely popular H-1B visas go to Indians.
Shares of several Indian technology companies, including Infosys, plunged dramatically two weeks ago, amid reports of a looming crackdown on work visas.
Read: Tech industry prepares for Trump visa reform
Nilekani said it would be a mistake for the administration to follow through.
“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 an immigrant founder.”
India’s contribution to the industry – especially at senior levels – has been outsized. Current CEOs of Google ( And )Microsoft (for example, they were both born in India. )
Related: India panics over US plans to change visas for highly skilled people
But Nilekani, who is also the architect of India’s ambitious biometric identification program, suggested that India would ultimately benefit from any new restrictions put in place under Trump’s “America First” plan. If talented engineers cannot go to the US, they will stay in India.
“This visa issue has always come up in the United States every few years, especially around election time,” he said. “It has actually accelerated development work (in India), because … people are investing more to do the work here.”
Nilekani cited his own projects for the Indian government as an example.
The Bangalore-born entrepreneur left Infosys in 2009 to lead India’s massive social security program, known as Aadhaar. Thanks to this initiative, the vast majority of India’s 1.3 billion citizens now have a biometric identification number that allows them to receive government services, carry out banking transactions and even make biometric payments.
“It was built by extremely talented and committed Indians,” Nilekani said. “Many of them had international experience, but they brought that talent and experience to solve India’s problems.”
Nilekani said the country’s huge youth population is increasingly choosing to stay home and participate.
“It’s India first,” he said.
CNNMoney (Bangalore, India) First published February 13, 2017: 2:19 p.m. ET