By CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — A chorus of business leaders have slammed the Trump administration’s announcement that it is cracking down on a handful of work visas including those widely used by high-skilled tech workers.
President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday banning a handful of new visas through the end of the year including the H-1B visa (largely used by workers in the tech sector) and the L-1 visa (often used for transferring managers or executives from the foreign arm of a company to the U.S.), among other visa types.
Some 388,403 H-1B petitions were approved in fiscal year 2019, with 138,927 of those petitions being first-timers for initial employment at their companies, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report released in March.
More than 66% of those approved H-1B petitions were for workers in “computer-related occupations,” according to the report.
Applicants for the H-1B visa must be highly educated. According to the same report looking at last year’s data, 36% of the H-1B petitioners that were approved held a bachelor’s degree, 54% held a master’s degree and 8% held a doctorate degree.
In the proclamation, the Trump administration presented the move as a way of freeing up thousands of jobs for American workers amid the coronavirus-induced unemployment crisis.
Critics have argued that highly skilled tech workers especially in STEM fields, however, can actually help create jobs in the U.S. economy.
A study from the nonprofit immigration research and advocacy organization the New American Economy argued that every H-1B visa holder creates 1.83 jobs for native-born American workers.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue called the proclamation a “severe and sweeping attempt to restrict legal immigration” that will actually reduce job creation.
“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back. Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation,” Donohue said in a statement.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has long defended the need for an immigrant workforce at Apple, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the proclamation.
“Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream,” Cook tweeted. “There is no new prosperity without both. Deeply disappointed by this proclamation.”
Apple had 1,136 H-1B visa approvals during 2019’s fiscal year, according to data from the USCIS.
Google and Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai echoed Cook’s sentiments.
“Immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today,” Pichai wrote in a tweet. “Disappointed by today’s proclamation – we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.”
Google had 2,678 H-1B visa approvals in 2019, according to the USCIS data.
Microsoft’s President Brad Smith also responded on Twitter, saying that immigrants “are contributing to this country at a time when we need them most.”
“Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world’s talent or create uncertainty and anxiety. Immigrants play a vital role at our company and support our country’s critical infrastructure,” he wrote. “They are contributing to this country at a time when we need them most.”
Microsoft had 1,701 H-1B visa approvals in 2019, according to the U.S. CIS data.
Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, added that these immigrant workers generate “innovation” and “growth.”
“As we plan for recovery from the COVID-19 crisis let’s focus on common sense & fair immigration policies. H-1B workers should be treated with respect & dignity,” Benioff wrote. “They generate real innovation & growth . . . benefiting us all and fueling our economy. We embrace all our Ohana.”
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also reacted to the news on Twitter, writing, “Very much disagree with this action. In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.”
Finally, Twitter also slammed the announcement in a statement, arguing the move is damaging to the “economic strength” of the U.S.
“This proclamation undermines America’s greatest economic asset: its diversity. People from all over the world come here to join our labor force, pay taxes, and contribute to our global competitiveness on the world stage,” Twitter’s VP of public policy and philanthropy, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, said in a statement. “Unilaterally and unnecessarily stifling America’s attractiveness to global, high-skilled talent is short-sighted and deeply damaging to the economic strength of the United States.”
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