President Donald Trump’s executive orders curtailing immigration have been met with near-universal opposition in Silicon Valley. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
UPDATE: Feb. 6, 5:55 pm. Tesla Inc. and SpaceX were among 31 companies added to the brief late Monday afternoon. Elon Musk, CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, is the last remaining technology executive on Trump’s business council.
The biggest names in Silicon Valley lined up over the weekend to support a high-profile legal battle against President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Having already publicly denounced Trump’s orders, which were temporarily blocked last week by a federal judge, leaders in the technology industry joined a friend of the court brief opposing the ban.
Trump’s orders represent “a significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than fifty years,” reads the amicus brief, written by Andrew Pincus of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Mayer Brown LLP. “The Order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees. It disrupts ongoing business operations. And it threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.”
The amicus brief, filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco late Sunday, is in support of a lawsuit against Trump’s immigration orders by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Seattle-based Amazon had previously filed a declaration of support
in the case, and as a result was not on the list of firms who joined the friend of the court brief. Notably absent as well were Oracle, Palantir (co-founded by Trump ally Peter Thiel), Qualcomm and IBM. In a statement to FORBES, a spokesperson for IBM said its CEO, Ginni Rometty, “conveyed the company’s views directly” to Trump at an in-person meeting last week. That meeting
, also attended by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, was originally to include other Silicon Valley leaders who pulled out after intense public backlash
against the immigration orders.
The last time tech companies joined forces on this scale was nearly a year ago, when dozens of firms signed friend of the court briefs in support of Apple in the smartphone maker’s encryption battle with the federal government. At the time, the unifying thread for companies was a shared resistance to government-imposed orders on software security built into devices. Now, it’s the widely-held belief in Silicon Valley that immigrants have and continue to be a driving force in the American economy – or at least, for the Valley’s own bottom line.
“Immigrants are leading entrepreneurs,” Sunday’s brief reads. “Some of these businesses are large. Immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list … Collectively, these companies generate annual revenue of $4.2 trillion, and employ millions of Americans.”
It’s unclear exactly how the brief came together over the weekend, and which technology trade organizations, if any, were involved. Pincus declined to comment beyond the order Monday morning.
Many of the same companies who signed the brief are still expected to send a public letter to Trump’s administration regarding the ban.
Here is a complete list of the companies who signed the order, in alphabetical order:
1. AdRoll, Inc. 2. Aeris Communications, Inc. 3. Airbnb, Inc. 4. AltSchool, PBC 5. Ancestry.com, LLC 6. Appboy, Inc. 7. Apple Inc. 8. AppNexus Inc. 9. Asana, Inc. 10. Atlassian Corp Plc 11. Autodesk, Inc. 12. Automattic Inc. 13. Box, Inc. 14. Brightcove Inc. 15. Brit + Co 16. CareZone Inc. 17. Castlight Health 18. Checkr, Inc.
19. Chobani, LLC 20. Citrix Systems, Inc. 21. Cloudera, Inc. 22. Cloudflare, Inc. 23. Copia Institute 24. DocuSign, Inc. 25. DoorDash, Inc. 26. Dropbox, Inc. 27. Dynatrace LLC 28. eBay Inc. 29. Engine Advocacy 30. Etsy Inc. 31. Facebook, Inc. 32. Fastly, Inc. 33. Flipboard, Inc. 34. Foursquare Labs, Inc. 35. Fuze, Inc. 36. General Assembly 37. GitHub 38. Glassdoor, Inc. 39. Google Inc. 40. GoPro, Inc. 41. Harmonic Inc. 42. Hipmunk, Inc. 43. Indiegogo, Inc.44. Intel Corporation 45. JAND, Inc. d/b/a Warby Parker 46. Kargo Global, Inc.47. Kickstarter, PBC 48. KIND, LLC 49. Knotel 50. Levi Strauss & Co. 51. LinkedIn Corporation 52. Lithium Technologies, Inc. 53. Lyft, Inc. 54. Mapbox, Inc. 55. Maplebear Inc. d/b/a Instacart 56. Marin Software Incorporated 57. Medallia, Inc. 58. A Medium Corporation 59. Meetup, Inc. 60. Microsoft Corporation 61. Motivate International Inc. 62. Mozilla Corporation 63. Netflix, Inc. 64. NETGEAR, Inc. 65. NewsCred, Inc. 66. Patreon, Inc. 67. PayPal Holdings, Inc. 68. Pinterest, Inc. 69. Quora, Inc. 70. Reddit, Inc. 71. Rocket Fuel Inc. 72. SaaStr Inc. 73. Salesforce.com, Inc. 74. Scopely, Inc. 75. Shutterstock, Inc. 76. Snap Inc. 77. Spokeo, Inc. 78. Spotify USA Inc. 79. Square, Inc. 80. Squarespace, Inc. 81. Strava, Inc. 82. Stripe, Inc. 83. SurveyMonkey Inc. 84. TaskRabbit, Inc 85. Tech:NYC 86. Thumbtack, Inc. 87. Turn Inc. 88. Twilio Inc. 89. Twitter Inc. 90. Turn Inc. 91. Uber Technologies, Inc. 92. Via 93. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 94. Workday 95. Y Combinator Management, LLC 96. Yelp Inc. 97. Zynga Inc.
Added later Monday:
97. Adobe Systems Incorporated 98. Affirm, Inc. 99. Ampush LLC 100. Brocade Communications Systems, Inc. 101. Bungie, Inc. 102. Casper Sleep Inc. 103. Cavium, Inc. 104. Chegg, Inc. 105. ClassPass Inc. 106. Coursera 107. EquityZen Inc. 108. Evernote 109. Gusto 110. Handy Technologies, Inc. 111. HP Inc. 112. IAC/InterActiveCorp 113. Linden Lab 114. Managed By Q Inc. 115. MobileIron 116. New Relic, Inc. 117. Pandora Media, Inc. 118. Planet Labs Inc. 119. RPX Corporation 120. Shift Technologies, Inc. 121. Slack Technologies, Inc. 122. SpaceX 123. Tesla, Inc. 124. TripAdvisor, Inc. 125. Udacity, Inc. 126. Zendesk, Inc. 127. Zenefits
*Note: Turn Inc. was listed twice in what appears to have been an error by the law firm representing the companies on the list.
Email Matt at mdrange[at]forbes.com. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Tech giants Apple, Google file legal brief opposing Trump’s immigration ban
Top tech companies argue against Trump travel ban
Some Tech Companies Find Ways Not To Hire Americans
Tech workers looking for jobs may think twice before looking at job ads that are targeted at Americans but actually are intended for foreigners.
Lawmakers continue to wrangle over a bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system. One provision in this bill would allow companies to import a lot more skilled workers. The tech industry has lobbied hard for this, despite fears among some American workers about the extra competition.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin says the bill has American workers covered. “Employers will be given a chance to hire a temporary foreign worker when truly needed. But first, they’ll be required to recruit Americans. No exceptions, no excuses,” he said.
Still, making companies recruit Americans isn’t the same as making them hire them.
If you talk to disgruntled tech workers much, sooner or later one of them is going to send you this video. It shows a Pittsburgh immigration lawyer at what looks like a seminar for clients in 2007. In the video, he’s telling clients what to do when they want to sponsor one of their foreign workers for a permanent visa — a green card. The government requires employers to prove they looked for American workers first. So the companies have to advertise the job. But the lawyer tells them they don’t have to advertise it too conspicuously.
“Our goal is, clearly, not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker,” the lawyer in the video says. He later adds, “We’re going to find a place where … we’re complying with the law and hoping — and likely — not to find qualified and interested worker applicants.”
Immigration law firms do this all the time: They show employers how to recruit Americans without actually having to hire them. This lawyer didn’t want to talk to NPR, maybe because anti-visa activists have been sending this video around for years. It’s Exhibit A in their argument that recruiting rules are a sham.
In the parts of the country where tech companies are prevalent, this kind of “faux recruiting” is common knowledge. But people in the industry quickly learn not to waste their time on certain job listings, says Orion Hughes, a software tester.
“A lot of us are aware of that ruse,” he says.
Hughes and others avoid the listings with overly specific requirements, such as the number of years in “the job offered.” That often means the employer just wants to make permanent a temporary foreign worker who’s already in the job. And if you’re stubborn enough to apply anyway, Hughes says that interview is going to be awkward.
“If you want to put yourself in that manager’s shoes, it’s an uncomfortable situation for them,” he says. “They will [have a] kind of a sour facial expression, and they’ll go from one question to the next. They are finding some reason to exclude you.”
Employers usually go through these motions only when they’re sponsoring a foreigner for a permanent visa. But now the Senate immigration bill would extend a similar requirement to temp workers: the foreigners on the H-1B visas which have become so common, and controversial, in lower-end tech jobs. The bill would have employers post those jobs online first, and there’d be more recruiting rules for companies that use H-1Bs a lot. It sounds good, but it’s a move that seems to ignore all the ill will that’s been generated over the years by insincere recruiting.
“No one is ever hired,” says Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut.
Morrison helped design the current work visa system, but now he’s an immigration lawyer and a lobbyist. The “good faith” recruiting process, he says, comes with a fundamental flaw, he says.
“Which is, it doesn’t start until you’ve already picked the person you want,” Morrison says. “The decision whether to hire an American already happened — and you didn’t.”
Morrison’s one of many experts who’ve given up on these recruiting rules. But he offers a solution to the problem: Have the government charge employers a heftier fee when hiring a foreigner.
“Create the economic circumstance where it costs you a lot more to hire a foreigner,” Morrison says. “And you’ll only do it if you can’t find an American who’s suitable.”
The Senate bill takes small steps in this direction, but Morrison thinks it’s not nearly enough. The bill actually removes the recruiting rule for some of the permanent visas — and he’s happy about that. Morrison’s been lobbying to get more green cards to skilled workers. But now it looks like the “recruit-Americans-first” idea is being shifted to temporary visas, the H-1Bs.
That means the tech industry will still be plagued by insincere job listings and bogus interviews, and the undercurrent of resentment that they create.
Why The Cold War Between Tech CEOs and Trump Is About To Go Nuclear
Over the weekend, openly defiant CEOs, particularly among the tech sector, expressed their displeasure with Trump’s Friday executive order temporarily banning refugees and limiting travel from seven Muslim countries, with both words and deeds, among which the following (summary courtesy of Axios):
- VCs funding the ACLU: Several venture capitalists, as well as a few entrepreneurs, took turns soliciting donations to the American Civil Liberties Union through social media and personally matching those donations.
- Airbnb volunteers to help provide housing for impacted immigrants: The home-sharing company said that it will work with travelers and organizations to provide housing for those impacted by the executive order, whether through volunteer hosts or by funding housing.
- Lyft and Uber commit millions of dollars to legal aid: On Sunday, Lyft said it will donate $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years. Later in the day, Uber said it will create a $3 million legal defense fund for impacted drivers, as well as provide legal assistance and compensate their lost wages.
- Google is setting up a $2 million crisis fund: The search giant has set up a fund that will donate to the American Civil Liberties Union, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, International Rescue Committee, and UNHCR.
On Monday morning, former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, speaking in an interview with Bloomberg Television, said that he is “gratified” by what he heard from the tech community. “As global businesses, they have a huge stake in the United States being a nation of the Statue of Liberty rather than being a nation of refugee camps.” He added that “they have a huge stake in the United States supporting an open and tolerant global system, they have that stake for their employees, their customers, they have it for the reputation of the United States and they have spoken out.”
Donald Trump sitting down with tech CEOs during less turbulent times.
That may be, but the biggest reason for the anger by tech CEOs at the Trump administration is a simple, and a more selfish one. The reason for the simmering cold war between tech CEOs and Trump can be summarized in just three letters: H1-B. The bottom line is that tech CEOs fear Trump will single them out for outsourcing jobs or shut down the so-called H-1B visa program they use to hire high-skilled foreign employees for crucial engineering and technical jobs.
And, as Axios adds, White House officials say they are right to be nervous, especially about changes to the visa program. Chief strategist Steve Bannon and policy chief Stephen Miller are known to be deeply skeptical of the program, and will have a strong, vocal ally when Jeff Sessions gets confirmed as Attorney General. Some further observations:
- Trump’s mixed messages: On the campaign trail, he promised to “end forever the use of H-1B as a cheap labor program.” He later signaled in a meeting with tech leaders that he’s most concerned about companies misusing the visas to displace lower-wage American workers.
- How it works: Visas are capped at 65,000 a year, with 20,000 additional visas for foreign workers with master’s degrees. The demand for the visas is so high that the cap is usually exceeded within a few days of the application window opening. The visas are distributed to companies through a lottery system.
Tech companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Cisco, Apple, Intel and Facebook say the visas are crucial for specialized jobs they can’t fill domestically because of a shortage of American graduates with the right technical skills. When CEOs spoke out over the weekend about the ban, they pointed out the importance of allowing the “best and brightest” to work in the U.S.
* * *
Which is why if a news report about Trump’s next imminent executive order is accurate, the simmering cold war between the tech CEOs and Trump is about to nuclear.
Bloomberg reports that the Trump administration has drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling the work-visa programs technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year. If implemented, the reforms could force wholesale changes at India companies such as Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd., and shift the way American companies like Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. recruit talent. Companies would have to try to hire American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid.
The draft of Trump’s executive order covers an alphabet soup of visa programs, including H-1B, L-1, E-2 and B1. The first is a popular program with technology companies and is aimed at allowing them to bring in high-skill workers when they can’t find local hires with the appropriate skills. The legislation caps the number of people who can enter the U.S. annually at 85,000, including those with undergrad and master’s degrees.
The average salary of an H-1B worker at Apple is reportedly more than $100k.
“Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest,” the draft proposal reads, according to a copy reviewed by Bloomberg. “Visa programs for foreign workers … should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers — our forgotten working people — and the jobs they hold.”
The foreign work visas were originally established to help U.S. companies recruit from abroad when they couldn’t find qualified local workers. But in recent years, there have been allegations the programs have been abused to bring in cheaper workers from overseas to fill jobs that otherwise may go to Americans. The top recipients of the H-1B visas are outsourcers, primarily from India, who run the technology departments of large corporations with largely imported staff.
“If firms are using the program for cheap labor, I think it will affect them and they will have to pay workers more,” said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University. “If tech firms are using the program for specialized labor, they may find there are more visas available.”
The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment on the draft. The proposal is consistent with the president’s public comments on pushing companies to add more jobs to the U.S., from auto manufacturing to technology.
It’s not clear how much force the executive order would have if it is signed by the president. Congress is also working on visa reforms and the parties will have to cooperate to pass new laws. Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic congresswoman from California, introduced a bill last week to tighten requirements for the H-1B work visa program.
“My legislation refocuses the H-1B program to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the U.S. workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers,” Lofgren said in a statement.
Meanwhile, as Bloomberg adds, India’s technology companies, led by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys and Wipro, have argued they are helping corporations become more competitive by handling their technology operations with specialized staff. They also contend the visa programs allow them to keep jobs in the U.S. and that if they have to pay more for staff, they will handle more of the work remotely from less expensive markets like India. Trump, however, see things differently.
“Inspections and investigations in the past have shown no cases of wrongdoing by Indian IT services companies, which have always been fully compliant with the law,” said R Chandrashekhar, president of Nasscom, the trade group for India’s information technology sector. “The industry is open to any kind of checks in the system, but they should not cause any hindrance to the smooth operation of companies.
The proposed Trump order is also aimed at bringing more transparency to the program. It calls for publishing reports with basic statistics on who uses the immigration programs within one month of the end of the government’s fiscal year. The Obama Administration had scaled back the information available on the programs and required Freedom of Information Act requests for some data.
Whatever specific changes are implemented, they are likely to add to the expenses for India’s technology companies. That may accelerate a shift to new kinds of services, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, said Raja Lahiri, partner at the Mumbai-based partner at consultancy Grant Thornton India
“The visa challenges are not going to go away easily,” he said. “They will continue to be a challenge for Indian IT companies.”
But while the pain for India will be acute, it will be Silicon Valley that may be most impacted, as suddenly its favorite source of cheap, skilled labor is eliminated. How it will responds remains to be seen.