SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the son of Mumbai doctor Ashok Varadkar, made a brief stop at Twilio headquarters here Nov. 3 while on a three-day trade mission to the West Coast.
The Indo-Irishman began his visit in Seattle, Washington, making stops at tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, among other companies. He arrived in San Francisco Nov. 2, and met with executives of Cisco, Facebook, Apple, and Google where he met Sundar Pichai, the company’s Indian American CEO.
At Twilio, Varadkar – known as the Taoiseach in his home country – spoke about the growth of American companies doing business in Ireland, and noted that more than 140,000 people are employed by U.S. companies in his country.
“We’ve got a strong economy again,” said the 38-year-old Taoiseach, noting that Ireland’s economy is growing at 4 to 5 percent annually. The unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest point in recent years, and employment is growing in record numbers, he said.
“Our future is at the heart of Europe,” he said, noting that post-Brexit, in which the United Kingdom severs its ties with the European Union, Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the EU.
Varadkar, who took office June 14 as Prime Minister Enda Kenny stepped down, announced that Twilio was expanding its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, and expects to employ 100 new workers there by the end of 2019.
A day earlier, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee gave Varadkar the keys to the City. City Hall was lit up in green that evening to celebrate the prime minister’s visit.
Varadkar, who is openly gay, also paid homage to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to serve on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Milk was slain at City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978, along with former Mayor George Moscone, by Dan White, a former member of the Board of Supervisors.
Speaking briefly to India-West after the Twilio announcement, Varadkar compared the ease of doing business in India versus Ireland. “I cannot speak to Modi’s vision,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s ambitious “Make in India” initiative, which seeks to attract investment from abroad while shoring up entrepreneurship in India.
“India is doing extremely well. But Ireland is the best place in Europe to do business. We have a very open attitude to trade, and we embrace a multicultural society,” he said.
Indian and Indian American companies are increasingly flocking to Ireland to set up operations there or shore up their entry into European markets (read India-West’s earlier story here).
Infosys, HCL, Wipro, Tech Mahindra, and the Tata Group, along with several pharmaceutical companies, all have significant operations in Ireland, and Indian companies account for 27 percent of new investments in Ireland.
Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland, told India-West he has visited India twice in the past three years and met with executives in the technology, financial, and pharmaceutical sectors, who have expressed interest in doing business with Ireland. “Many Indian companies are interested in accessing European markets,” he said, noting that Ireland provides an ideal base.
Ireland has been attractive to Indian employees because of its very flexible work permit requirements, noted Shanahan, adding that – unlike the U.S. – there is no quota on the number of work permits issued to foreign employees each year.
“There has been no discussion about stopping the flow of immigration. We recognize that immigration has brought in tremendous talent,” he said.
Work permits can be issued in a matter of weeks, said Shanahan. Currently, about 10 percent of Ireland’s work-force has Indian roots, Paraic Hayes, senior vice president for the West Coast at IDA Ireland, told India-West in an interview earlier this year.
“Ireland is the most open and welcoming country in the world,” said Shanahan.