Tech & Immigration: What Happened, What’s Next

By Paula Bernier

It was another interesting weekend with our new president – and not in a good way for many of the nation’s immigrants. That prompted many tech leaders to speak out against President Trump’s executive order banning U.S. entry to refugees and travelers from seven heavily Muslim countries.

The order caused confusion at several U.S. airports, which held for hours or turned away some travelers. It spurred another round of protest marches around the country. And it caused such tech titans as Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Apple’s Tim Cook, Box Inc.’s Aaron Levie, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Tesla’s Elon Musk to voice their concern over the move.

President Trump on Friday signed the executive order to temporarily halt the admission of refugees, indefinitely ban the admission of Syrian refugees, and stop people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the U.S.. The move, he indicated, aims to keep the American populace safe.

However, The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that “few of the dozens of plots in the U.S. during and after 2001 were attempted or carried out by suspects who came from the countries targeted under the ban.” The New York Times yesterday noted that neighboring Muslim countries with which Trump has done business are not on the list. And The Washington Post in November reported that you’re more likely to be crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist.

The ban includes people with green cards and visas from these countries. So at least some those individuals who were traveling outside the U.S. and tried to re-enter the country this weekend were detained. That included a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, two doctors from the Cleveland Clinic, a Stanford PhD student, and others.

In light of the order, Google called its employees back to the U.S. Cook sent a letter to Apple employees saying the company doesn’t support the ban and will help its workers affected by it. And Musk tweeted: "The blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country’s challenges."

The tech community in Canada weighed in on the ban as well via a letter signed by leaders of Facebook, Google, Shopify and others (150 in all).

“The Canadian tech community supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's message that Canada will and must remain inclusive to all nationalities,” the Canadians wrote. “We also stand directly opposed to any and all laws that undermine or attack inclusion, and call on Prime Minister Trudeau and our political leaders to do the same.”

The Canadian tech community also is calling on the Canadian federal government to institute a visa providing people displaced by Trump’s order with temporary residency in Canada. This visa, they added, should provide those individuals with the ability to live and work in Canada until they can gain permanent residency status.

The tech industry’s interest in this issue is clear, as it employs many foreign workers. And President Trump’s executive order on immigration could be just the tip of the iceberg of the U.S. tech industry’s troubles in this realm. Reports indicate that overhauling the work-visa programs on which many tech companies heavily depend could be next on Trump’s to-do list.

That would dovetail with Trump’s America First messaging by potentially providing greater job opportunities for U.S. citizens. However, it could serve to make U.S. businesses less competitive by shrinking the pool from which they can hire and causing them to have to pay more for labor.

Facebook and startup veteran Antonio Garcia Martinez in his book Chaos Monkeys wrote this about the U.S. H-1B visa program: “Large but unexciting tech outfits like Oracle, Intel, Qualcomm, and IBM that have trouble recruiting the best American talent hire foreign engineers by the boatload. Consultancy firms that bill inflated project costs by the man-hour, such as Accenture and Deloitte, shanghai their foreign laborers, who can’t quit without being eventually deported. By paying them relatively slim H-1B-stipulated salaries while eating the fat consultancy fees, such companies get rich off the artificial employment monopoly created by the visa barrier. It’s a shit deal for the immigrant visa holders, but they put up with the five or so years of stultifying, exploitive labor as an admissions ticket to the tech First World.”

He also adds this: “Strickly speaking, H-1B visas are nonimmigrant and temporary, and so this hazing ritual of immigrant initiation is unlawful. Yet everyone’s on the take, including the government, which charges thousands in filing fees. The entire system is so riven with institutionalized lies, political intrigue, and illegal but overlooked manipulation, it’s a wonder the American tech industry exists at all.”

TMC is working to raise awareness of such job-related issues via its Tech Culture Awards program. We invite you to explore and participate in the TMC Workplace Excellence Award program including the Tech Culture Award, the Tech Diversity Award, and the Social Responsibility Award.

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