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Silicon Valley Offers Muted Reaction to New Travel Restrictions

March 08, 2017

When the Trump administration issued its executive order in Janurary restricting travelers from certain countries, many tech companies and their employees were quick to express their objections.

But now, with the new executive order out limiting travel to the U.S. for people from six countries, the response from Silicon Valley has been largely muted.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, Facebook and Microsoft has so far remained quiet.

In reaction to the first travel executive order, the three companies were among 100 U.S. tech firms that filed a legal brief in opposition. At the time, Google said 76 of its employees were affected by the executive order.

Still, some firms, such as Uber, Lyft, Mozilla and Airbnb, were quick to express their objections to Monday's executive order.

Lyft, the ride-hailing firm, plans to meet with the American Civil Liberties Group this week to discuss how "we can further support their efforts," Logan Green, Lyft's CEO, said in a statement. The company gave the civil liberties organization $1 million in January.

"Our sentiment has not changed: President (Donald) Trump's immigration ban is unjust and wrong," an Uber spokesperson said. "We will continue to stand up for those in the Uber community affected."

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted a tribute to his grandfather, "Thinking of great grandfather Issac Benioff who came to US from Kiev as Refugee. W/O him no @Salesforce (2M jobs/200B GDP) or@GameOfThrones!" (Benioff's cousin, David, is the co-creator of the hit TV series.)

Tech lobbying group and trade organizations have largely stayed mum about the limited travel ban.

One exception is TechNet, which represents tech firms such as Facebook and Apple. It put out a statement this week saying that "unfortunately, just like the first order, this new policy singles out individuals based on their country of origin and will adversely impact technology workers who live and work in our nation."

The industry has been anxiously waiting for the Trump administration's revamp of the H-1B visa program, which Silicon Valley uses to hire skilled workers. Late last week, the administration jettisoned an aspect of the H-1B visa application process called "premium processing," which allowed companies to pay extra for their visa applications to be expedited.

That change underscored the uncertainty in the industry over how the Trump administration will ultimately handle both work visas and travel restrictions.

"What's next?" said Evan Engstrom, executive director of Engine, an advocacy and research group focused on tech startups.

"What everyone is concerned about is what anti-immigration policies are going to be more expansive," Engstrom said.

It's a point echoed by a Yahoo executive.

"American businesses like Yahoo need certainty, particularly around the ability to hire and retain top talent. A piecemeal approach leaves question marks for companies and employees," April Boyd, a Yahoo vice president and head of global public policy, said in a statement. "We encourage the administration to work with Congress on a thoughtful, lasting approach to bring positive change to the current immigration system.”

Each April 1, the U.S. holds a lottery for 65,000 H-1B visas and 20,000 additional visas for foreign students with master’s degrees. Last year, there were requests for more than 200,000, a record figure.

But critics say skilled-worker visa programs have hurt American workers. Companies have used them, they say, to hire foreign workers who are not highly skilled and who are paid lower than market rate wages.

The biggest users of the H-1B program have been outsourcing firms that provide IT consulting.

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