President Trump’s actions on immigration during his first week in office are sending shock waves through the technology community, where immigrants comprise a big portion of the workforce.
In an email obtained by Bloomberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai slammed Trump’s executive order banning citizens of majority-Muslim countries Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Pichai said more than 100 employees are affected by the order. Some Google employees were traveling internationally and trying to return to the U.S. before the order took effect, according to an anonymous source cited by the news service.
The Trump administration says the holding period is necessary to study the immigration system and find ways to protect Americans from terrorism.
“We are telling nationals of the seven listed countries not to travel, at least for now,” immigration attorney Ian Wagreich told GeekWire. “This includes green card holders. The companies can still file petition but for the time being, they won’t be able to enter the U.S.”
On Thursday, prior to Trump’s signing of the executive order, Microsoft included new language about the shifting immigration climate in its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Changes to U.S. immigration policies that restrain the flow of technical and professional talent may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts,” the company wrote in the filing Thursday. “If we are less successful in our recruiting efforts, or if we cannot retain key employees, our ability to develop and deliver successful products and services may be adversely affected.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen addressed the impact of immigration and globalization on the tech industry in an interview on CNN in September, prior to Trump’s election.
Narayen said immigrating to the country has, “given me everything that I have” and characterized “anything that we do that dissuades people from coming or attracting the best and brightest” limiting and short-sighted.
“Globalization is not going to be turned back,” said Nadella. “Again, America has benefitted from globalization. But the case has to be made that it’s actually benefitting us, and not destroying jobs or creating inequities. Therefore, I think we have to find that new balance, between not only globalization, trade, immigration, but solving for the inequities that may have come about because of some of that.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to the immigration order on a personal level in a Facebook post Friday.
“Like many of you, I’m concerned about the impact of the recent executive orders signed by President Trump,” he said, noting that his grandparents came from Eastern Europe and his wife, Priscilla Chan’s parents were refugees from China and Vietnam.
“We are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here,” said Zuckerberg.
In addition to the 90-day ban on immigrants from the six countries identified previously, Trump also placed a four-month hold on allowing refugees to cross U.S. borders. The ban includes green card holders and graduate-level immigrants authorized to work in the U.S. on H-1B visas, according to Reuters.
The tech community has also raised concerns over a leaked, proposed executive order pledging to “consider ways to make the process for allocating H-1B visas more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and brightest.”
Any sweeping changes to the H-1B are likely to impact companies like Microsoft and Google, which use the visa to bring skilled talent in from other countries.
In December, Trump met with key members of the tech community including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google-parent Alphabet. Nadella reportedly brought up H-1B visas and challenges tech companies have in bringing in skilled talent.
“Let’s fix that,” Trump responded.