Businesses push back against Trump immigration order
Tech giants in the U.S. have united against an order halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries as Canadian firms call on Ottawa to act
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NEW YORK—Google, Apple and other tech giants expressed dismay over an executive order on immigration from President Donald Trump that bars nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
The U.S tech industry, among others, relies on foreign engineers and other technical experts for a sizeable percentage of its workforce. The order bars entry to the U.S. for anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
The move, ostensibly intended to prevent extremists from carrying out attacks in the U.S., could now also heighten tensions between the new Trump administration and one of the nation’s most economically and culturally important industries. That’s especially true if Trump goes on to revamp the industry’s temporary worker permits known as H-1B visas, as some fear.
“I share your concerns” about Trump’s immigration order, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a memo to employees obtained by The Associated Press. “It is not a policy we support.”
“We have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company,” he added.
Cook didn’t say how many Apple employees are directly affected by the order, but said the company’s HR, legal and security teams are in contact to support them.
“Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,” Cook wrote—an apparent reference not only to the company’s foreign-born employees, but to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant.
Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who has recently appeared to be cultivating a relationship with Trump, tweeted that “many people negatively affected by this policy are strong supporters of the US” who don’t “deserve to be rejected.” Musk is an immigrant from South Africa.
Google told its employees from those countries to cancel any travel plans outside the U.S. and to consult with the company’s human resources department if they’re not currently in the U.S., according to a company-wide note described to The Associated Press. That memo was first reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees in the note that at least 187 Google workers could be affected by Trump’s order. It is not clear how many of those workers are currently travelling outside the U.S. “We’ve always made our views on immigration known publicly and will continue to do so,” Pichai said in the memo.
Company representatives declined to discuss the memo or to answer questions about the affected employees. In an official statement, Google said: “We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S.”
Microsoft also said it is providing legal advice and assistance to its employees from the banned countries, noting they are all working in the U.S. lawfully.
A BIGGER ISSUE
The tech industry may be bracing for further immigration-related hits. Leaks of draft executive orders, still unverified, suggest that Trump might also revamp the H1-B program that lets Silicon Valley bring foreigners with technical skills to the U.S. for three to six years.
While the tech industry insists the H1-B program is vital, it has drawn fire for allegedly disadvantaging American programmers and engineers, especially given that the visas are widely used by outsourcing firms. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a long-time critic of the program.
Venky Ganesan, a managing director at venture capitalist firm Menlo Ventures, acknowledged that the program is “not perfect” and subject to some abuse, but noted that it provides an invaluable source of skilled workers and plays a “pivotal” role in the tech industry.
“If we want to buy American and hire American, we do that best by creating companies in America,” he said. “Having the best and brightest from all over the world come and create companies in America is better than them creating companies in India, Israel or China.“
CANADIAN FIRMS LOOK TO OTTAWA
In Canada, meanwhile, an open letter signed by members of the country’s tech community is calling for the federal government to offer visas to people whose lives have been left in limbo after the immigration ban.
The letter, which was organized by the group Tech Without Borders, includes signatures from senior Canadian leaders at Shopify, Google and Facebook. It praises Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message that Canada will remain inclusive to all nationalities.
But the letter also calls for further action, and requests a visa that would allow displaced people to live and work in Canada, with access to benefits until they can complete the application process for permanent residency, if they choose.
Jennifer Moss, who co-founded a tech company based in Waterloo, Ont., and speaks for Tech Without Borders, said the visa could help people who work in the tech sector in the U.S. but can’t get back to their jobs.
“If you’re not interested in keeping people that are extremely talented, intelligent, brilliant minds from all around the world, and turning them away at the borders, we’re happy to take those people in our country,” Moss said.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the Canadian government has been getting clarification from the U.S. about the new policy, and will monitor developments before making decisions on actions such as visas.
“We have always been welcome to those coming to Canada to add their skills to our economy and to our society,” Hussen told a news conference on Sunday.
“A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY”
There is already evidence that some tech workers are interested in coming to Canada.
One Canadian tech entrepreneur, Kaz Nejatian, said he received over 50 CVs overnight Saturday after he put out a call on social media looking for people affected by Trump’s travel ban.
He’s forwarding them to the CEOs of Canadian companies, and said he’s chatted with 14 of them about hiring workers hurt by the policy. Google has reportedly sent an internal email saying 187 of its employees were stranded by the order.
“Many of these people cannot get back into the United States. These are people with homes in the United States, with jobs in the United States, with cars in the United States, who have been security-checked and approved by the U.S. government,” said Nejatian, who splits his time between Toronto and San Francisco, where he has an office for his retail-services application Kash.
The U.S. State Department initially said the ban applied to dual citizens, but the Canadian government declared later that it had received a guarantee from Trump’s national security advisor that Canadians would be spared.
For Nejatian, who was born in Iran, it was a confusing weekend of mixed messages and he said he’s awaiting clearer written instructions.
He said this could be a golden opportunity for Canada. A former federal immigration official who worked for former minister Jason Kenney, Nejatian said successive federal governments have spent years trying to attract smart high-tech talent.
“We’re conservative on immigration issues. We believe in secure borders. But there’s an opportunity here for Canada to take advantage of, if the U.S. is closing up. And there’s lots of smart people who will want to start companies. There’s no reason those companies can’t be started in Canada.”
—With files from Canadian Press writers Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Alexander Panetta in Washington. AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this article from Detroit and AP Technology Editor David Hamilton contributed from San Francisco