Tech firms call workers home, decry entry ban
The country’s leading technology companies are recalling overseas employees and sharply criticizing President Trump after he signed an executive order Friday barring for 90 days immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The companies warned that the action — which affects even those with legal-permanent-resident status in the United States and includes suspending the acceptance of refugees for 120 days — could impair the ability of top U.S. companies to compete globally.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai late Friday ordered scores of staffers traveling overseas to return to the United States immediately. Pichai issued a companywide memo that was highly critical of Trump’s action, saying it could prevent at least 187 foreignborn Google employees from entering the United States.
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our
colleagues,” Pichai wrote. “We’re upset about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S.”
Thousands of technology workers living in Silicon Valley or abroad could be affected by Trump’s executive order, according to Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bayarea office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
About 250,000 Muslims are estimated to live in the Bay Area, many of whom are Arab or South Asian immigrants working at companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft.
“This is just where it starts. What happens when they add Pakistan? Or a gulf country? Indonesia and Malaysia?” said Billoo, a civil rights attorney. “By targeting immigrants in this way, Trump’s executive order not only directly impacts certain workers, their families and these companies, they also impact co-workers because people from other Muslimmajority countries could be next.”
The policy won’t affect just technology workers; it could also harm thousands of part-time drivers for ride-hailing services relied on by many Americans, said Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick in a companywide email. Kalanick added that he will be sure to raise the issue Friday when he and a number of other business advisers are expected to meet with Trump.
“This ban will impact many innocent people,” wrote Kalanick, who in December accepted a position on Trump’s economic advisory team.
In addition to blocking travelers from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, the restrictions on foreign entry also apply to those who hold dual nationality. A person born in one of the seven countries but also holding a passport from a country such as Britain could be barred from the United States.
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, in a letter to staffers Saturday, said that at least 76 employees will be affected by Trump’s policy. The company said it has contacted those individuals with offers of legal assistance, and it urged other employees who may be subject to the ban to contact the company as soon as possible.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, wrote in a LinkedIn post: “As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Friday wrote in a public message that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are indebted to the traditional U.S. policy of being welcoming and inclusive.
“We should also keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help. That’s who we are,” wrote Zuckerberg. “Had we turned away refugees a few decades ago, Priscilla’s family wouldn’t be here today.”
Similar sentiments were expressed across the tech industry. Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who was in Washington to meet with Republican officials, tweeted a quote from President Abraham Lincoln highlighting “malice toward none” and “charity for all” during a visit to Ford’s Theatre.
Cook later said in a companywide email that without immigration, Apple would not exist; the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was the son of a Syrian immigrant.
“I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries,” Cook wrote. “I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.”
Meanwhile, a major trade group representing firms such as Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and LinkedIn said Saturday that Trump’s decision had “troubling consequences” for Silicon Valley companies that depend on talent from overseas.
“The internet industry is deeply concerned with the implications of President Trump’s executive order limiting immigration and movement into the United States,” Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, said in a statement.
Trump’s attitude toward Muslims’ entering the country raises tensions between the White House and Silicon Valley. Aside from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has been closely advising Trump, much of the tech industry had supported Hillary Clinton for president. In open letters and other public statements during the campaign, tech executives and workers objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, and some signed onto a commitment not to help design his proposed Muslim registry.
Trump’s action against travelers from the Middle East obligates tech companies to take a stand, Sam Altman, president of the influential start-up accelerator Y Combinator, said in a blog post Saturday.
“The precedent of invalidating already-issued visas and green cards should be extremely troubling for immigrants of any country or for anyone who thinks their contributions to the US are important,” Altman wrote in his blog post.
For many in Silicon Valley, Trump’s order crossed “a red line,” according to Hunter Walk, a partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Homebrew VC.
“For those of us who’ve already been vocal . . . [it’s] moving people from saying ‘focus on midterm elections’ to apply direct pressure to our industry’s CEOs and our politicians to take a stand,” Walk said.