Amazon, Google, Apple, and other tech companies are speaking out against Trump's freeze on immigrant work visas

·5 min read
sundar pichai jeff bezos
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Getty; AP

  • Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter, and other major tech companies are criticizing President Donald Trump's move to halt certain immigration visas.

  • In an order Monday, Trump extended a freeze on green card visas and added new restrictions on H-1B and other work visas, with officials arguing it would prevent immigrants from taking Americans' jobs during an economic crisis.

  • The tech companies said that the freeze would make American firms less competitive and less diverse.

  • The tech industry relies heavily on the H-1B visa program and other work visas to recruit employees from outside the US, particularly for technical jobs.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Major tech companies including Amazon, Apple, Google-parent Alphabet, Uber, Twitter, and Box decried President Donald Trump's freeze on a range of immigration work visas Monday, calling it "unbelievably bad policy" that would undermine America's economic recovery and its competitiveness.

Trump issued a proclamation Monday suspending the issuance of a variety of visas that allow foreigners to work in the US for a limited amount of time. The administration said the suspension, which affects H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J-1, and L-1 visas, was necessary to protect American workers at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has pushed unemployment to its highest level in decades.

The order extends April restrictions that put a 60-day freeze on green cards until the end of the year, and adds the new restrictions covering work visas.

Tech companies rely on H1-B visas in particular to import engineering talent from around the world, helping them maintain Silicon Valley's competitive edge in an increasingly global market. Last year, Google and Amazon were each granted roughly 9,000 H1-B visa applications.

"Preventing high-skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America's economic recovery puts American's global competitiveness at risk," an Amazon representative told Business Insider. "The value of high-skilled visa programs is clear."

The US has 85,000 "high-skilled" H-1B visa spots open each year.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai — an immigrant himself — tweeted his opposition to the order Monday, saying: "Immigration has contributed immensely to America's economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today."

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet that he was "deeply disappointed by this proclamation," and that: "Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream. There is no new prosperity without both."

Aaron Levie, the founder and CEO of Box, spoke even more forcefully, tweeting that Trump's order was "unbelievably bad policy on every level," would "only mean more jobs move outside the US," and "in no way makes America better or more competitive."

The order, which takes effect Wednesday and lasts until the end of the year, does not apply to foreign workers with visas who are already in the country or those outside the country who have already been issued visas, according to The Wall Street Journal.

On a call with reporters Monday, officials in the Trump administration said the order would reserve 525,000 jobs for American citizens and cited the coronavirus-induced high unemployment rate as one of the reasons for extending the freeze.

'This proclamation undermines America's greatest economic asset'

Several lawyers who Business Insider spoke with said they thought that the extended freeze might lead to more restrictive immigration policy in the long term and that the administration was using the pandemic to carry out its efforts to limit immigration more permanently.

"My personal opinion is that we're not going to be going back to any type of easing of things, even as things settle down," Reaz Jafri, an immigration lawyer at Withers Worldwide, told Business Insider.

They also said this order and the previous order in April had led to confusion for many companies and people on work visas.

"Even for those of us who were in the weeds on these immigration issues, we have some concerns based off of language of what's going to be coming next," said Sharon Barney, an immigration lawyer at Leech Tishman.

Microsoft President Brad Smith alluded to that confusion as well in his statement, saying: "Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world's talent or create uncertainty and anxiety." He added: "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."

One by one on Monday and Tuesday, a parade of tech companies and tech executives released statements on Twitter or through other channels, touting the contributions of immigrants to the US economy and arguing that Trump's order would make American companies less competitive by hindering their ability to hire.

"This proclamation undermines America's greatest economic asset: its diversity. 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 for the Americas, told Business Insider in a statement.

Facebook echoed that and said restricting immigration would make it harder for the US economy to recover from the pandemic. "President Trump's latest proclamation uses the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for limiting immigration," a Facebook representative told NBC News. "In reality, the move to keep highly skilled talent out of the US will make our country's recovery even more difficult."

Other tech companies that spoke out against the order included Salesforce, Airbnb, and Uber, with the ride-hailing giant calling the order "disappointing for people from all over the world."

Netflix declined to comment for this story.

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