President Trump’s new travel ban was revised to pass legal muster, but the changes did nothing to win support in Silicon Valley, where signs of political activism remain on the rise.
The executive order issued Monday suspends entry for residents of six Muslim-majority countries and blocks refugees from around the world. Unlike the first travel ban, which was issued a week after Trump took office, the new order does not include Iraq and ensures that holders of visas and green cards can come into the U.S.
The tweaks did not appease some in the tech world — an industry that has loudly voiced its opposition to the administration’s border and immigration policies in part because they hinder its ability to hire badly needed talent from overseas.
“Lyft stands firmly against this order. We will continue to speak out and take action when the values of our community are put at risk,” Logan Green, chief executive of the ride-hailing service, said in a statement, adding that he planned to meet Wednesday with representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union to offer help.
Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky tweeted: “Barring people from entering our country because of where they’re from was wrong the first time around - still wrong...”
Marc Benioff, chief executive of business software firm Salesforce, said in a tweet that the new ban made him think of his grandfather, a refugee from Ukraine. And Max Levchin, a PayPal co-founder and now chief executive of lending start-up Affirm, said in a tweet that the policies put forth by the White House make “Canada look really attractive for tech.”
Uber Inc. released a statement saying, “Our sentiment has not changed: President Trump's immigration ban is unjust and wrong. We will continue to stand up for those in the Uber community affected.”
Uber faced criticism in January because it appeared to advertise its continued operation at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport during a taxi driver’s strike opposing the initial travel ban. That move, coupled with Chief Executive Travis Kalanick’s role on Trump’s business advisory group, sparked a backlash against Uber that cost the company thousands of customers. Kalanick has since resigned from the advisory board.
Some of the industry’s biggest names — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft — remained silent and did not respond to requests for comment on the new ban. A Twitter spokesman directed a reporter to a statement from the Information Technology Industry Council, which called on Washington to reform immigration laws so that it’s easier for companies to hire from abroad.
“The values and value that immigrants bring to our nation are a key source of American optimism and exceptionalism,” said Dean Garfield, president and chief executive of the trade group, whose membership includes Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter.
Those same companies were among the more than 100 tech firms that joined a court brief opposing the first travel ban. That was a rare show of unity and activism in an industry long criticized for not being more outspoken on political and social issues despite its immense influence and massive wealth.
One issue on which Silicon Valley hasn’t been shy about expressing its opinion is immigration. A study released last year by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy said immigrants founded just over half the nation’s start-ups valued at $1 billion or more.
The tech industry relies on foreign-born workers to fill out its ranks and has leaned heavily on temporary H-1B visas to bring in skilled employees.
But on Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it would suspend for up to six months expedited processing of H-1B visas, starting April 3. The service shortens wait periods for the visas from months to weeks for those willing to pay the $1,225 fee.
“A lot of tech companies and start-ups in the Valley rely on the H-1B visa program to attract and retain top talent,” said Los Angeles immigration attorney Ayda Akalin. “It can be quite competitive, especially for venture-backed start-ups who need to hire, build and scale as quickly as possible. Most companies fork over the extra fee for premium processing so that they can properly assess hiring needs. This is certainly going to be disruptive to that.”
Changes to the visa rules will be at the center of a demonstration called Tech Stands Up, scheduled for March 14, with about 1,600 people saying they will walk off their jobs in Palo Alto. The protest is described on its Facebook page as “a grassroots movement giving a voice to the rapidly growing concerns about the Trump administration's policies affecting the tech community and its users.”
Despite the industry's increasing outspokenness on the issue, the event’s organizer, software engineer Brad Taylor, told Axios he planned the walkout because he wanted an even more vocal response.
“I was sick of the silence,” Taylor said.
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