Trump’s clash with tech firms gets testy
India to feel brunt of new order
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
President Trump’s administration has drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling work-visa programmes.