Trump takes aim at work-visa programmes

Draft of executive order aims to change H1-B visas and push firms to hire Americans first

The draft of an executive order from US president Donald Trump reportedly seeks to overhaul the work-visa programmes technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year.

The move comes after the new president banned refugees and travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft and others railed against the ban, saying it violated the country's principles and risked disrupting its engine of innovation.

The new order will hit closer to home, however. If implemented, the reforms could shift the way American companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Apple recruit talent and force wholesale changes at Indian companies such as Infosys and Wipro. Businesses would have to try to hire Americans 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,” a draft reviewed by Bloomberg News reads.


The foreign work visas were originally established to help US companies recruit from abroad when they couldn’t find qualified local workers. In many cases, the companies are hiring for highly technical positions in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, or STEM. But in recent years, there have been allegations the programmes have been abused to bring in cheaper workers from overseas to fill jobs that otherwise woud have gone 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.

Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services use H-1B visas and other programmes to bring workers to the US. India trade group Nasscom defended companies’ use of the programme and said legislation should not hinder smooth operation of companies.

The Trump administration did not respond to request for comment.

Court challenge

Meanwhile, a group of technology companies plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss filing an amicus ( friend of the court) brief in support of a lawsuit challenging the order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The meeting is being called by GitHub, which makes software development tools. Amicus briefs are filed by parties who are not litigants in a case but want to offer arguments or information to the judge. Alphabet's Google, Airbnb and Netflix are among the companies invited, a source said. Representatives for Google and Netflix could not immediately be reached for comment, and an Airbnb spokesman declined to comment.

The technology industry depends on talent from around the world, and companies have been considering the best way to muster their resources, with efforts to date including statements condemning the move and financial support for organisations backing immigrants, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

The discussions among the tech companies come after Amazon and Expedia filed declarations in court on Monday supporting a lawsuit filed by the Washington state attorney general. Amazon and Expedia said Trump’s order adversely impacts their business. A separate lawsuit challenging Trump’s order as unconstitutional was filed on Monday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

If the tech companies decide to file an amicus brief as a group, it is unclear which case they would weigh in on. Other companies invited to meet include Adobe Systems, AdRoll, Automattic, Box, Cloudera, Cloudflare, Docusign, Dropbox, Etsy, Evernote, Glu Mobile, Lithium, Medium, Mozilla, Pinterest, Reddit, Salesforce, SpaceX, Stripe, Yelp and Zynga, the source said.

A representative for internet communications company Twilio confirmed it will be involved in filing an amicus brief. Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince said the internet security company is willing to consider and sign such a move. Denelle Dixon, chief legal and business officer for Mozilla, said the immigration order was "misplaced and damaging, to Mozilla, to the technology industry and to the country".

Representatives for Box and AdRoll said they would attend the meeting. An Etsy spokeswoman said the company received Github’s invite but could not confirm if it would move forward with the group.

Bloomberg, Reuters