Trump’s clash with tech firms gets testy

In­dia to feel brunt of new or­der

The Star Early Edition - - TRUMP FOCUS - Peter El­strom and Saritha Rai Tokyo and Ban­ga­lore

US PRES­I­DENT Don­ald Trump’s clash with Sil­i­con Val­ley over im­mi­gra­tion is about to be­come more con­tentious.

Af­ter he banned refugees and trav­ellers from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries, Google, Face­book, Sales­force, Mi­crosoft and oth­ers railed against the move, say­ing it vi­o­lated the coun­try’s prin­ci­ples and risked dis­rupt­ing its en­gine of in­no­va­tion.

Trump’s next steps could strike even closer to home: his ad­min­is­tra­tion has drafted an ex­ec­u­tive or­der aimed at over­haul­ing the work-visa pro­grammes tech­nol­ogy firms de­pend on to hire tens of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees each year.

If im­ple­mented, the re­forms could force whole­sale changes at In­dia firms such as In­fosys and Wipro, and shift the way US firms such as Mi­crosoft, Ama­zon.com and Ap­ple 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.

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

The for­eign work visas were orig­i­nally es­tab­lished to help US firms re­cruit from abroad when they could not find qual­i­fied lo­cal work­ers. But there have been al­le­ga­tions the pro­grammes have been abused to bring in cheaper work­ers from over­seas to fill jobs that other­wise may go to Amer­i­cans.

“If tech firms are us­ing the pro­gramme for spe­cialised labour, they may find there are more visas avail­able,” said Ron Hira, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Howard Univer­sity.

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 US.

Congress is also work­ing on visa re­forms and the par­ties will have to co-op­er­ate to pass new laws. Zoe Lof­gren, a Demo­cratic con­gress­woman, in­tro­duced a bill last week to tighten re­quire­ments for the H-1B work-visa pro­gramme.

In­dia’s tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, led by Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices, In­fosys and Wipro, ar­gued they were help­ing cor­po­ra­tions be­come more com­pet­i­tive by han­dling their tech­nol­ogy op­er­a­tions with spe­cialised staff.

Wipro and TCS de­clined to com­ment for this story.

A spokes­woman for In­fosys said the com­pany was mon­i­tor­ing the US visa pro­pos­als, but it was too early to as­sess their im­pact given the un­cer­tainty of what would be ap­proved.

“We con­tinue to hire and in­vest lo­cally,” the com­pany said in an e-mail. “How­ever, given the skill short­ages in the US and the avail­abil­ity of tech­ni­cally skilled work­force in var­i­ous global mar­kets, we also rely upon visa pro­grammes to sup­ple­ment th­ese skills.”

The draft of Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der cov­ers an al­pha­bet soup of visa pro­grammes, in­clud­ing H-1B, L-1, E-2 and B1. The first is pop­u­lar with tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and is aimed at al­low­ing them to bring in high-skill work­ers when they can­not find lo­cals with the ap­pro­pri­ate skills.

The leg­is­la­tion caps the num­ber of peo­ple who can en­ter the US an­nu­ally at 85000.

The pro­posed Trump or­der is also aimed at bring­ing more trans­parency to the pro­gramme. It calls for pub­lish­ing re­ports with ba­sic sta­tis­tics on who uses the im­mi­gra­tion pro­grammes within one month of the end of the gov­ern­ment’s fis­cal year. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had scaled back the in­for­ma­tion avail­able on the pro­grammes and re­quired Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quests for some data. – Bloomberg

FILE PHOTO: AP

Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has drafted an ex­ec­u­tive or­der aimed at over­haul­ing work-visa pro­grammes.

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