“This is just xenophobic scapegoating,” tweeted Virginia Democrat Don Beyer about the President of the United States Donald Trump. Seemingly, I am not the only one. This tweet was prompted by yet another drastic move when Trump issued an executive order that temporarily halts the issuance of green cards and work visas for 60 days last Tuesday. Crushing the big American dream for millions, via a Twitter post done on Monday night, he said the ban was prompted by the “the attack from the invisible enemy”, referring to Coronavirus, and the urgent need to protect jobs for Americans, therefore, exempting them from foreign competition.
According to the New York Times, those familiar with the plan revealed that the temporary order may shut down the legal immigration system for now.
Trump added that additional restrictions could be expected, particularly if the American economy continues to struggle to recuperate from the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Due to the pandemic, the US experienced a record redundancy ratio. As of last week, 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits which were flagged as the main reason for the ban.
A few weeks ago, President Trump closed the Northern and Southern borders to curtail the virus. However, what started with restricting travel and shutting the US borders in a bid to reduce the spread of the lethal Coronavirus, spewed over to barring potential employees from moving or even entering the country altogether.
Arguably, the ban begs the question of whether the government is just using the global pandemic to cut down immigrants, a campaign that Trump has advocated since he was elected. It’s no secret that Trump never really viewed migrants as a conduit of economic growth but rather more of a burden on US’ resources.
“Existing immigrant visa processing protections are inadequate for recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Trump wrote in the executive order, adding that immigrants are “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
The sudden decision sparked much debate and disapproval. In California’s Democratic Senator Kamala Harris’ words: “he’s shamelessly politicizing this pandemic to double down on his anti-immigrant agenda.”
While this decision will impact thousands of migrant workers making the process of moving to the US increasingly herculean, it would inevitably have a negative impact on tech startups and giants which largely rely on migrants.
To quote some numbers, over one million people were granted lawful permanent resident status in the US in 2019, as per the Department of Homeland Security with those coming mainly from Mexico, China, India, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Cuba.
More importantly, three-quarters of Silicon valley – home to tech titans in the likes of Google, Facebook, and Cisco are staffed with foreigners, according to the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project Report which used data from 2017.
The same report also revealed that among the companies which raked in the bulk of foreign workers were Google sponsoring more than 2,500 and Apple which hired nearly 2,000 foreign workers that year.
The main reason that these giants encourage an increasingly diverse workforce is due to the lack of talent in the tech and IT sectors within the US. Even though sponsoring an H-1B visa for an employee costs thousands of dollars, it is a cost that most tech business leaders are willing to pay. From where I see it, the ban – while temporary – might threaten the US’ position as a tech leader.
In fact, not only did immigrants develop most modern technologies but also the companies responsible for them. From the founder of Google, Sergey Brin to Tesla founder Elon Musk, immigrants constitute 25% of tech entrepreneurs in the US. In addition, circa 50% of unicorns are founded by immigrants. Contrary to the President’s views, migrants are creating more jobs than taking them.
Indeed, with these financial benefits, one would expect an increasingly welcoming and lenient immigration policy.
The ban stirred much criticism. Microsoft president Brad Smith tweeted:
Smith is not the only one to warn Trump. The Information Technology Industry Council issued a statement in response and said that migrant workers “will be vital to the US economic recovery and must remain part of the workforce. We urge President Trump not to endanger the country’s economic recovery by closing its economy to the rest of the world.”
This is hardly the first time Trump had a crackdown on immigration. It was under his administration that the plan ‘Buy American, Hire American’ was announced in 2016. He also imposed a travel ban on seven Muslim countries in 2017, therefore, putting millions of migrant workers’ lives at the risk of having to leave.
Consequently, amid times when the total cases infected by the Coronavirus in the United States alone is close to a million currently, Trump should be investing in an international talent pool so as to help the economy bounce back quickly as opposed to imposing regulations which might thwart US’ position as a global tech hub. Looking at how two-thirds of US growth since 2011 is directly attributable to migration according to a CitiGroup study, it is evident that hiring foreign workers will only help the country propel forward.
If the ban continues, inevitably top talent and skilled employees will return to their home countries. In addition, foreign students, who are extremely lucrative for America’s universities, as well as foreign investors, will be demotivated to apply for courses.
Given that the tech sector was responsible for revenue worth $351 bn in 2018, you can be sure to see why the ban will affect the country negatively. However, with the run-up to the presidential election pressures this November, only time will tell if Trump continues to sabotage the US.