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Bill Gates: Tough US immigration stance a 'huge mistake'

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Bill Gates called US immigration restrictions a "huge mistake" while on tour of India today, urging America to open its golden doors for more "smart people."

The Microsoft billionaire spoke out on US immigration at a software CEO forum Monday in New Delhi while visiting the country to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development.

"I have been speaking about some of the immigration restrictions that the US has got involved in, and they are terrible for the US and also terrible for the world," India's national newspaper The Hindu quotes Gates saying. "The US Congress is very tough on immigration, in general. And my position has been, well, that is unfortunate, but what about making an exception for smart people, people with engineering degrees and letting such people come in."

Adding that Microsoft has always been against tougher immigration laws, Gates said stricter US policy would be a "huge mistake."

Gates also told the audience he is "very excited" about India's new government agency tasked with creating a national identity card for the country's 1.2 billion citizens starting in 2011. Gates said he's booked a meeting with the minister in charge of the project during his visit to discuss Microsoft's possible involvement. At the same time, Gates expressed disappointment in the US government's unwillingness to embrace a similar national ID program because it "got off to a bad start" using computers to keep data on citizens.

"It has always come back to the idea that 'the computer knows too much about you.'" Gates said.

In addition, Gates urged India's IT market to move away from low-cost labour and towards high-end research and development.

"At first some of that [IT boom] was built on low-cost labor. And, of course, as time goes on, you don't want to have that as the only differentiator and it's not a sustainable thing, because others can come along with that as well," he said.

Gates called on the Indian government, businesses, and universities to deepen their commitment to R&D as well as boosting the country's relatively low number of native PhD students.

Gates is visiting India to receive the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization is helming a $258m effort to combat the spread of AIDS. On the eve of his arrival, Gates announced an additional $80m of funding towards the project. ®

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