Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
Liu Jie | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Tech leaders have criticized President Donald Trump’s latest immigration crackdown on the visa programs that their companies rely on to employ thousands of staff.
Trump signed an executive order on Monday that suspends foreign work visas including the L-1 visa that allows firms to transfer staff from overseas offices and the H-1B visa that enables companies to hire highly skilled people in certain fields.
Google’s Sundar Pichai, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki and Tesla’s Elon Musk were quick to condemn the restrictions, as were representatives from Amazon, Facebook and Twitter.
“Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today,” Pichai said via Twitter. “Disappointed by today’s proclamation — we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.”
The restrictions on the visas will come into play on June 24 and remain in place until at least the end of this year.
Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO, said on Twitter that immigration was “central” to America’s story and her own family’s story. “My family escaped danger and found a new home in America.”
Pichai “is right,” she continued, before adding YouTube would “join Google in standing with immigrants and working to expand opportunity for all.”
The Migration Policy Institute predicted that up to 219,000 workers would be blocked as a result of Trump’s executive order.
Musk said that he disagreed with the action “very much” on Twitter. “In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators,” he wrote. “Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.”
Trump said the executive order had been introduced to help the U.S. economy recover from the coronavirus, adding that it will free up jobs for Americans.
However, Amazon, which received more H-1B visas than any other company in 2019, described the move as “short-sighted” in a statement.
“Preventing high skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America’s economic recovery puts American’s global competitiveness at risk,” the company said.
Facebook also condemned the move. “President Trump’s latest proclamation uses the Covid-19 pandemic as justification for limiting immigration,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “In reality, the move to keep highly-skilled talent out of the U.S. will make our country’s recovery even more difficult. Highly-skilled visa holders play a critical role in driving innovation— at Facebook and at organizations across the country — and that’s something we should encourage, not restrict.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith said: “Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world’s talent or create uncertainty and anxiety. Immigrants play a vital role at our company and support our country’s critical infrastructure. They are contributing to this country at a time when we need them most.”
“Unbelievably bad policy”
Box CEO Aaron Levie described the executive order as an “unbelievably bad policy on every level” adding that it will not make America better or more competitive in any way.
Organizations representing the tech sector also took issue with the executive order.
The Internet Association — founded in 2012 by several companies, including Google, Amazon, eBay, and Facebook — focused on the H-1B program, which allows 85,000 people with “highly specialized knowledge” to move to the U.S. with their families.
“The diverse and accomplished H-1B visa holders in the U.S. create American jobs and help our economy grow,” said Sean Perryman, the association’s director of social impact, in a statement. “All industries benefit from a visa system that allows U.S. companies to attract the best and brightest no matter where they’re from.”
The executive order could also hurt smaller tech companies and the U.S. start-up ecosystem.
Matt Turck, a venture capitalist at FirstMark, pointed out that overseas entrepreneurs may start their companies outside the U.S. if they can’t get a visa.
“I was on an H1B visa for 10 yrs,” he wrote on Twitter. “Started a company with co-founders also on H1Bs. Hired American employees, served U.S. customers. This was our American dream. But today the same company could be started anywhere. Why would the next generation bother if they can’t get a visa?”