The Trump administration has reportedly drafted an executive order that could overhaul the H-1B work visa program that tech companies depend on to bring foreign talent into their ranks. News of the draft comes just days after President Trump issued an executive order banning travel entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries last Friday.
In a press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer characterized the potential action on work visas as “part of a larger immigration effort” that is meant to respond to “an overall need to look at all of these measures”, according to USA Today.
A copy of the proposed draft, acquired by Bloomberg, reads in part: “Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest…Visa programs for foreign workers … should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers — our forgotten working people — and the jobs they hold.”
Trump’s stance on immigration and recent immigration ban has riled Silicon Valley leaders whose companies have often used the foreign work visa program to recruit STEM talent from abroad in order to fill highly technical positions. Some, however, allege that the H1-B visa program, which is capped at approximately 65,000 per fiscal year, is being used to bring in cheap labor from overseas, dragging down wages and undercutting American workers.
Following last Friday’s travel ban, Apple CEO Tim Cook circulated an internal memo, acquired by MacRumors, pledging support for affected Apple employees and reaffirming the company’s indebtedness to the outsize contributions of immigrants: “In my conversations with officials here in Washington this week, I’ve made it clear that Apple believes deeply in the importance of immigration — both to our company and to our nation’s future. Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.”
Other tech leaders, including the heads of Netflix, Microsoft, Uber, AirBnB, and Tesla also voiced criticism of the policy. Google CEO Sundar Pichai denounced the order, arguing that it had stranded nearly 200 of his employees overseas, according to USA Today.
Immigration experts say Trump’s tough stance could end up severely disrupt tech recruitment, development, and job creation, and divert competitive talent to foreign countries with more accommodating immigration laws.
While the precise visa reforms the draft proposes are unclear, it reportedly covers a broad swathe of US visa programs including H-1B, L-1, E-2 and B1.