Trump’s next move on work visas could destroy Silicon Valley

31 Jan 2017

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Image: Engel Ching/Shutterstock

New draft proposals targeting foreign workers in the US could cripple Silicon Valley, a bastion of diversity.

Since the contentious executive orders banning refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries were imposed, senior leaders in Silicon Valley, from Apple’s Tim Cook to Google’s Sergey Brin, have been vocal in their opposition.

Bloomberg recently reported that the Trump administration has drafted a new executive order that targets work visa programmes such as H-1B, which is critical for tech companies to hire skilled workers from countries like China and India.

Not only that, but the National Foundation for American Policy estimates that immigrants founded 51pc of US $1bn start-ups.

Brin was born in Russia, for example, and WhatsApp founder Jan Koum was born in Ukraine.

An ‘America First’ work visa programme

The threatened executive order is aimed at overhauling the work visa programmes that tech companies depend on to hire thousands of employees each year.

It will be aimed at ensuring businesses hire Americans first, and if they do hire foreign workers, priority will be given to the most highly paid.

As well as hurting US tech companies, it will also impact negatively on Indian companies with major footholds in Silicon Valley, including Wipro and Infosys.

“Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the US national interest,” the draft proposal reads, according to a copy seen by Bloomberg.

“Visa programmes for foreign workers should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritises the protection of American workers – our forgotten working people – and the jobs they hold.”

Silicon Valley’s loss, however, could be other countries’ gain in the long run.

Intercom, a San Francisco tech company headed by Irish founders, last night moved to offer support to tech workers from Muslim countries who might be affected by the decisions of the Trump administration.

Emphasising that it was in no way to be interpreted as a recruitment drive, Intercom has offered safe harbour at its Dublin office.

Co-founder Eoghan McCabe said that Dublin is a great place to continue a tech career.

As well as offering advice to anyone seeking refuge in Dublin, it will cover legal fees up to €5,000 for as many as 50 people considering a move to the city.

“Like San Francisco, it’s home to hundreds of technology companies,” McCabe said.

“From tiny start-ups we’ve not heard of yet, to later-stage ones like Stripe and Slack, to large-sized tech companies like Airbnb and Dropbox, and even bigger ones like Facebook and Google. It’s multicultural, and in our opinion, quite welcoming and open.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years