Trump executive order suspending H-1B visas takes heat from tech giants

Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft criticize an order that prevents highly skilled foreigners from entering the US.

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Donald Trump

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday suspending immigrant work visa programs.

Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool/Getty Images

Many of the tech industry's biggest and most influential companies are criticizing an executive order from President Donald Trump that temporarily halts issuance of work visas, including the H-1B for high-skilled workers, preventing immigrant workers from coming to the US until the end of the year.

Signed Monday, Trump's expanded travel restrictions will prohibit about 525,000 people from entering the country, including 170,000 green-card holders who have been prevented from entering the US since April, according to estimates provided to The Wall Street Journal by a senior administration official. 

The Trump administration said that the order, which doesn't apply to workers who already hold valid visas, will help save jobs for unemployed Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment quadrupled between February and March of this year, Trump said.

"American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy," Trump wrote in the order. "Without intervention, the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand."

But tech industry representatives warn that the decision will hobble companies' ability to recruit highly skilled foreign citizens. About three-quarters of 85,000 allotted H-1B visas each year go to people working in the technology industry.

Many tech giants cited the vital contributions immigrants make to their companies and the US as a whole.

"Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world's talent or create uncertainty and anxiety," Brad Smith, Microsoft chief counsel, said in a tweet late Monday. "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."

Amazon called the order "shortsighted" in voicing its opposition.

"Preventing high skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America's economic recovery puts America's global competitiveness at risk," an Amazon spokesman said. "The value of high-skill visa programs is clear, and we are grateful of the many Amazon employees from around the world that have come to the US to innovate new products and services for our customers."

Google echoed those sentiments.

"Immigrants have not only fueled technological breakthroughs and created new businesses and jobs but have also enriched American life," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. "America's continued success depends on companies having access to the best talent from around the world. Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America's economic recovery."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, himself an Indian immigrant, touted immigration as helping build the company and the US.

"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 in a tweet. "Disappointed by today's proclamation -- we'll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all."

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, whose father fled Poland in 1949 as the communists took control, also mentioned the personal impact of immigration.

"Immigration is central to America's story, and it's central to my own family's story," Wojcicki tweeted. "My family escaped danger and found a new home in America. @sundarpichai is right - at @YouTube, we join Google in standing with immigrants and working to expand opportunity for all.

Facebook said Trump's proclamation is trying to leverage the pandemic to limit immigration but will make the nation's economic recovery more difficult.

"America is a nation of immigrants and our economy and country benefit when we encourage talented people from around the world to live, work, and contribute here. That's more true now than ever," a Facebook spokesperson said. "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."

Diversity, recovery and the American dream

Twitter said the order undermines diversity, which it called "America's greatest economic asset."

"People from all over the world come here to join our labor force, pay taxes, and contribute to our global competitiveness on the world stage," Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter's vice president of public policy and philanthropy, said in a statement. "Unilaterally and unnecessarily stifling America's attractiveness to global, high-skilled talent is short-sighted and deeply damaging to the economic strength of the United States."

Uber also criticized the order, saying immigration helps to fuel innovation.

"Today's executive order is disappointing for people from all over the world and will hurt American businesses," an Uber spokesperson said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he is "deeply disappointed" by Trump's proclamation. 

"Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream," Cook tweeted on Tuesday. "There is no new prosperity without both. Deeply disappointed by this proclamation."

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also disagreed with the proclamation, calling it excessive. 

"Very much disagree with this action," Musk tweeted in response to the New York Times. "In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad."

Watch this: Trump issues order to stop alleged 'unchecked power' of Twitter

Yann LeCun, Facebook's head of AI and a past winner of the highly prestigious Turing Award, said the executive order will mean "American science and technology will be completely devastated." 

LeCun went from a J-1 visa to an H-1B, followed by a green card and eventually US citizenship. "As an immigrant, scientist, academic, liberal, atheist, and Frenchman, I am a concentrate of everything the American Right hates," LeCun tweeted Tuesday. "[But] I have personally co-created and managed academic institutes, industrial labs, and startups that employ hundreds of people."

An industry group representing tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook noted tech companies' contributions to battling the pandemic and said the move will hinder companies' ability to make workforce decisions.

"The technology industry is working overtime to keep Americans connected during a global pandemic by providing food delivery services, tele-healthcare, collaborative business solutions, and ways for families and friends to stay connected," TechNet CEO Linda Moore said in a statement.

"This will slow innovation and undermine the work the technology industry is doing to help our country recover from unprecedented events," Moore said. "Looking forward, technology will continue to be crucial to the rebuilding of our economy."

Aaron Levie, CEO of cloud company Box, warned that the order could push companies to move jobs overseas. "This is unbelievably bad policy on every level," Levie said in a tweet Monday. "It will only mean more jobs move outside the US, and in no way makes America better or more competitive."

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the Trump administration of using the pandemic as an excuse to rewrite immigration law.

"This is not a COVID-19 response or an economic response," the ACLU said in a statement. "It's the exploitation of a pandemic to institute divisive policies and reshape immigration law, while superseding Congress."