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Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith. (GeekWire File Photo)

Microsoft is asking new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to create a process for granting exceptions to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, for what the company calls “Responsible Known Travelers with Pressing Needs.”

In a formal letter to Tillerson and Kelly, dated today, Microsoft President Brad Smith proposes making exceptions when the traveler holds a valid non-immigrant work visa sponsored by a U.S. employer or a student visa from an accredited U.S. university, has no U.S. criminal record, and is traveling for no longer than two weeks for the employer’s business needs or an employee’s family-related emergency.

Smith’s letter cites language in the executive order which says, “the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.”

Microsoft has spoken out against Trump’s executive order, and the company says it will continue to do so. In the meantime, this is the first attempt by a major tech company to lessen the blow of Trump’s actions on immigration by using the framework set out by his executive order.

Separately, Microsoft is among the major tech companies, along with Google, Apple, Facebook and others, that are reportedly circulating an open letter to Trump about his immigration order. Microsoft is making the appeal to Homeland Security and the Department of State separately, on its own.

The immigration issue escalated Friday when President Donald Trump signed an executive order that stops citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya from entering the U.S. for 90 days, suspends all refugee immigration for 120 days, and bars Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely. Microsoft said previously that it was aware of 76 employees who are citizens of the seven predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens are blocked from entry to the U.S. for 90 days under the executive order.

In the letter to Tillerson and Kelly, the company went into more detail on the circumstances faced by those employees, seeking to explain the need for a process for exceptions.

Microsoft has 76 employees who, together with their 41 dependents, have nonimmigrant visas to live and work in the United States and are impacted by the Executive Order. After contacting these employees and their families, we have learned that some of them have particularly pressing needs. For example, we are concerned about families that have been separated as one or both parents were outside the United States last Friday and therefore cannot re-enter the country and are stranded away from their homes. We are also concerned about an impacted employee inside the United States with a desperate need to visit a critically-ill parent abroad. These situations almost certainly are not unique to our employees and their families. Therefore, we request that you create an exception process to address these and other responsible applications for entry into the country.

The letter proposes that people meeting all of these criteria be granted exceptions.

  • The individual holds a valid nonimmigrant work visa sponsored by a U.S. employer enrolled in E-Verify, an F-1 student visa to pursue a degree at an accredited U.S. university accompanied by documentation from the university showing that he or she is currently enrolled and in good standing, or a derivative nonimmigrant visa as an immediate family member of one of these individuals.
  • The individual has committed no crime in the United States.
  • If departing from the U.S., the purpose of the travel must be for the business need of the employer or for an exigent family-related emergency. The travel abroad will be for a duration of no longer than two weeks. Immediate family members with derivative nonimmigrant visas would be permitted to accompany “Responsible Known Travelers with Pressing Needs” if the travel is for an exigent family-related emergency.
  • Business travel abroad will not include passage through the countries covered by the Executive Order. Personal travel abroad for exigent family-related emergencies may allow for travel to any country on a case-by-case basis.

In a blog post about the request, Smith says U.S. immigration authorities “already have a wide range of personal information about individuals in the visa categories that we have proposed,” including where they live, work, their family members, driver’s license information and criminal record.

“In short, these individuals are ‘known quantities’ in their communities: their character, personalities, conduct, and behavior is understood by their colleagues, employers, friends, and neighbors,” he writes.

Smith adds, “Many of these individuals also fill critical roles in the organizations that employ them, whether they are doctors, scientists, engineers, medical technicians, software developers, or any number of other highly skilled professionals. They are deeply valued contributors to the innovation, research and business acumen of our nation, and they serve critical roles in the successful operations of U.S. companies.

His post concludes, “We know that we do not have all the answers; in publishing this proposal, we hope that others will improve upon our ideas. Nor does this request attempt to address all the important immigration questions currently before the nation. But we believe there is a need and opportunity, amidst the broader debate, for immediate action under the executive order to help real people address pressing needs.”

Here’s a copy of Microsoft’s letter.

Microsoft’s Trump Proposal – Responsible Known Traveler Exception by Todd Bishop on Scribd

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