Sci & Tech Editor James Pettit takes a look into the effect that Trump’s worrying immigration ban is having over the technology industry
President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily ban refugees and residents from 7 Majority-Muslim countries (Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq) has been justly met with indignation and disapproval around the world. The Iranian Presidential Advisor for Legal Affairs, Elham Aminzadeh, has labelled the ban as ‘a blatant violation of human rights’, and has accused the US of ‘double-standards’ due to the absence of Saudi Arabia from the ban, who are known sponsors of Islamic terrorism. Similarly, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, has denounced Trump’s actions, noting that ‘discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law.’
One industry which has been forthright in its condemnation of the immigration and travel ban is that of the United States technology industry, which is a vital, profitable cog in the national economy. CEOs and founders of large companies are themselves immigrants or descendants of immigrants, for instance Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sundar Pichai (Google) and Brian Chesky (Airbnb). The technology sector is one which is in a large part dependent on immigration. Areas of specialised technology expertise such as Silicon Valley are reliant upon importing highly valued workers with specialised skills such as software engineering from foreign countries. Specifically, those that are brought in to work in the US rely primarily on that of the H-1B visa program, which has been cast into doubt through Trump’s ban. Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Abed Ayoub, noted that some workers that rely on the H-1B visa had already been refused boarding on flights back to the US within 24 hours of the ban being issued.
In the wake of recent events, Google have recalled some of its foreign employees from travelling overseas. It is estimated that over 100 employees are affected by the proposed 4 month ban on migrants, with those in question engaged in full-time work in the US but overseas for either work or holiday purposes. Immediately responding to Trump’s ban, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai penned a memo to his employees stating that ‘It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues. We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.’ Central to Google’s concerns is the impact that Trump’s order will have over the status of H-1B visa holders. A spokesperson for the company stated that such restrictions are worrying because they ‘could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US.’
Mark Zuckerberg has also expressed his disdain for the Trump’s mandate, posting on his website: “We are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here…I hope we find the courage and compassion to bring people together and make this world a better place for everyone.”
Zuckerberg has previously been outspoken on the issue of immigration. In 2013 he joined other tech leaders such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) in supporting the non-profit group Fwd.us. The group advocates a comprehensive change and reform of immigration policy in the United States, aiming at ‘mobilizing the tech community in support of policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century, starting with common sense immigration reform.’
Microsoft are reported to have issued a memo in solidarity with all of their employees that are directly affected by the ban, noting that ‘our goal as a company is to provide you with legal advice and assistance.’ The memo noted that they are aware of 76 Microsoft workers whose country of origin has been banned, and are in the country on travel visas. CEO Satya Nadella has also issued a statement about how, as an immigrant himself, he has ‘both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world.’ Nadella concludes that Microsoft will continue to contest the ban: ‘We will continue to advocate on this important topic.’
CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, issued a statement condemning Donald Trump’s actions and advocating his support of the benefits of immigration. He stated that: ‘Apple believes deeply in the importance of immigration — both to our company and to our nation’s future. Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.’
The issue of talent accrual in the face of such a ban was at the heart of Cook’s memo, which noted also that: ‘Our employees represent the finest talent in the world, and our team hails from every corner of the globe.’ He concluded with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: ‘We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.’
Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-founder of Airbnb, revealed in a succession of tweets last weekend that ‘Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US.’ Chesky’s company allows its users to list or rent short-term lodgings in residential properties, with prices determined by the property owners themselves.
It is now calling on any users wishing to help to support those affected by the ban through hosting people for free and offering up their homes. In an official statement on their website, Airbnb note that: ‘Airbnb is working with partners around the world to support refugees and those who may have unexpectedly been affected by the recent travel ban into the United States.’ Through engaging those outraged into a network of support for those affected, Airbnb is promoting activism and categorically acting in contra to the discriminatory nature of the President’s policy through aiming to ‘Help create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.’
John Zimmer and Logan Green, co-founders of transportation network company Lyft, sent an email to users of their services on Sunday. In it they too condemn the President’s actions, blasting the ban as ‘antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values’ and promising that they ‘will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.’
Further pledging their assistance in activism against the ban, Lyft’s founders also revealed that they were donating $1,000,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been actively involved in the defence of rights for those that have been detained at airports since the ban has been issued.
As opposed to the condemnation as expressed by other tech companies, Uber faced a backlash on Sunday 29th January after they appeared to profit off the ban. #DeleteUber swept social media, with users posting screenshots of them deleting the app alongside criticism of the company. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance tweeted that they would not be running services from JFK airport for an hour in response to protests that were ongoing against the detaining of passengers coming into the US. “We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbours against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry.’ Seemingly taking advantage of the situation, Uber announced that they would be turning off their surge pricing, something that has been interpreted as a way of breaking the strike.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is one of several tech leaders to join Trump’s business advisory group. He has previously defended this position, with the defence that ‘we’ll partner with anyone in the world as long as they’re about making transportation in cities better, creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off of the streets.’ The social media backlash shows that a lot of Uber’s users view this position as ethically problematic.