‘Big mistake’ if US blocks overseas skilled workers: Bill Gates

Friday, July 24, 2009

NEW DELHI - Microsoft founder Bill Gates Friday said it would be a “big mistake” if the US curbs the entry of skilled workers from abroad, rallying behind the “smart people” from countries like India that has a globally recognised outsourcing industry.

He also said Microsoft will like to partner the Indian government in its ambitious plan to give a unique identity number and a biometric card to each of its 1.17 billion people.

“I can’t make any predictions. Immigration policy could get more difficult. Microsoft as a company is very vocal. It would be a big mistake,” said Gates, here for overseeing the philanthropic activities of the foundation he has formed with his wife Melinda.

“The US Congress is very tough on immigration. But why not make an exception for smart people?” he said at an interactive session organised by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) at the Durbar Hall of Taj Palace Hotel here.

Gates even maintained that the job market in the US had not shifted anywhere, when asked to respond to US President Barack Obama’s comments that he will not like jobs to be taken away from Buffalo to outsourcing companies in Bangalore.

“If we get the statistics, about 1,800 US people are working here (in India).

Even though Gates now devotes most of his time to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has always been vocal about his support for migrant professionals that is reflected in the number of such workers at the Microsoft offices in the US.

According to Nasscom, Indian nationals accounted for 157,726 H1B visas, or 37.8 percent of the 409,619 admissions under this US programme in 2008. This is a drop of about 3,000 professionals compared to 2007.

Gates said he was also keen to partner India in its ambitious plan to issue a single identity card and number to its 1.17 billion citizens for which a new authority has been formed under Infosys Technologies co-founder Nandan Nilekani.

“Microsoft wants to be part of the Unique Identification Authority of India project,” he said, adding that he hoped to meet with Nilekani to discuss the issue.

“I am very excited about the project. It is a great initiative. We need to make sure every data is accurate. From a mobile phone number to anything,” Gates told the conference, also addressed by Minister for State for Communications Sachin Pilot.

During his current visit, Gates announced a major increase in his foundation’s AIDS prevention commitment to India to $338 million, saying India’s drive in this regard could serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Launched in 2003, his family foundation provides funding and support to targeted HIV prevention programmes in six Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, and along the national trucking routes through an initiative called “Avahan”.

Prior to this, the foundation had committed a total of $258 million for the purpose.

Gates, who has always maintained a packed schedule during his visits to India, was also scheduled to meet with Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and hold a videoconference with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Another reason behind the current visit is to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development on behalf of his foundation, being recognised for “pioneering and exemplary philanthropic work around the world and in India in health”.

As of July, the foundation has committed nearly $1 billion for health and development projects in India. Globally, it has committed nearly $12 billion in grants for global health, the foundation claimed in a statement.

Filed under: Infosys, Microsoft

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