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Seattle tech workers protest the Trump administration’s immigration agenda back in March.
(GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

At a White House event this week, President Donald Trump backed sweeping cuts to the legal U.S. immigration system and said the plan would “restore our competitive edge.”

Not so fast, says the technology industry.

The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, introduced by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. David Perdue, would eliminate the diversity visa program, which awards 50,000 visas each year based on a lottery system. In its place, the act introduces a new point system which scores visa applicants based on “predictors of immigrant success.” It does not target the H-1B visa program that many tech companies rely heavily on to recruit international talent.

Supporters of the bill say it would prioritize skilled workers and reduce the number of unskilled immigrants competing for lower-wage jobs. In a press release, The White House said the changes would more closely align U.S. policy with the merit-based immigration systems used by Australia and Canada.

That might sound like the kind of reform the tech industry has been seeking, but many members of the community are criticizing the bill for making broad cuts to legal immigration under the guise of prioritizing skilled workers.

Dean Garfield, president of The Information Technology Industry Council, the lobbying group that represents Microsoft, Apple, Google, and other tech giants, released a statement condemning the bill.

“This is not the right proposal to fix our immigration system because it does not address the challenges tech companies face, injects more bureaucratic dysfunction, and removes employers as the best judge of the employee merits they need to succeed and grow the U.S. economy,” he said.

In addition to the aforementioned changes, the RAISE Act would cap refugees admitted to the U.S. to 50,000 per year and cut a program that allows immigrants to sponsor extended family members (including siblings and adult children) to bring them into the U.S. Though the White House says the new system is intended to emulate Australia or Canada, those countries admit a higher number of immigrants as a percentage of their populations than the U.S. does.

President Trump is endorsing a bill to curb legal immigration. (BigStock Photo)

PayPal co-founder Max Levchin told Wired that the RAISE Act and the Trump administration’s other anti-immigration policies “severely harm our economic growth and eliminate our greatest global economic competitive advantage: our ability to attract the best and the brightest.”

The Trump administration, on the other hand, says “the RAISE Act replaces the current permanent employment-visa framework with a skills-based system that rewards applicants based on their individual merits. The system rewards education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative.”

Related: How President Trump could make Vancouver, B.C., a tech boomtown

The RAISE Act is the latest in a series of anti-immigration policies backed by the Trump administration that have led to speculation that skilled immigrants may consider Canada over the U.S. Under the RAISE Act, the U.S. may not be the first choice for foreign tech workers who wish to bring extended family members with them.

“While it’s not the end of the world for tech, there’s really nothing in the bill for the industry to be enthusiastic about,” an unnamed Republican adviser to the tech industry told Axios. “Even though it raises the bar in terms of skills, it doesn’t do anything to help temporary visa workers get green cards — and that just perpetuates the current problem for tech firms.”

The tech industry has been critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies since the president signed his first executive order restricting travel of citizens from several majority-Muslim countries. At that time, hundreds of tech companies condemned the policy, while Expedia and Amazon threw their weight behind Washington state when it sued the federal government over the order.

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