Silicon Valley firms acknowledged immigration curbs could affect their ability to do business
US technology companies over the weekend criticised an executive order signed by president Donald Trump that imposes wide-ranging restrictions on entry to the country for passport holder from seven Muslim-majority countries, and which is likely to be a forerunner of further immigration curbs.
Apple, Google and Microsoft offered legal aid to staff affected by the order, while several Silicon Valley companies said they would donate to legal efforts to support immigrants affected by the ban.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Uber chief Travis Kalanick said they would raise the IT industry’s concerns at Trump’s business advisory council.
Kalanick said the ban was “wrong and unjust” and said Uber would create a $3 million (£2.3m) fund to help drivers with immigration problems.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he was “concerned” about the order, and noted that he is the descendant of immigrants.
Sam Altman, president of Mountain View-based startup incubator fund Y Combinator, called for tech companies to coordinate efforts against the immigration order.
But he acknowledged that the move is so unprecedented that it’s as yet unclear how companies can respond.
Ridesharing start-up Lyft said it would donate $1 million over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is fighting the order. Other companies, including Slack and Union Square Ventures said they would make matching donations.
Michael Dearing, founder of venture capital firm Harrison Metail, launched a project called ELLIS (Entrepreneurs’ Liberty Link in Silicon Valley) to help smaller companies with immigration issues.
Khash Sajadi, the British-Iranian chief executive of San Francisco-based Cloud 66, was in London when the order took effect, and criticised prime minister Theresa May for maintaining silence on the issue.
“Are our Iranian employees expected to pay state and federal tax while they can’t come back to work?” he said in a Twitter post.
H1B visas affected
The order, presented as a security measure, affects holders of the H1B visas widely used by US technology companies to employ highly skilled staff from other countries.
As such, the move raises questions for the future of the US’ IT industry in the face of tighter immigration controls.
Google reportedly recalled around 100 staff affected by the order to the US from overseas, while Microsoft warned shareholders that incoming immigration curbs could materially affect its business.
Google told the BBC it is concerned about the order and any measures that could bar high-level talent from entering the US.
Both companies’ chief executives are immigrants from India, with Google’s Sundar Pichai born in Tamil Nadu and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella born in Tamil Nadu.
The administration said it intentionally withheld details of the order until it was signed and immediately took effect on Friday.
It bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days, meaning that holders of valid visas – including H1B work visas – were turned away from US-bound flights over the weekend.
It also suspends the entire US refugee resettlement programme for four months and cuts the limit for refugee numbers by more than half.
The British government has said the order only affects travellers flying directly from those seven countries to the US, and not to nationals of those countries travelling from other points of departure, including the UK.
But reports said travellers with passports from the affected countries were barred from boarding US-bound flights in cities including Cairo, Egypt and Doha, Qatar.
Individuals in transit when the order took effect and who held passports from the affected countries were detained at US points of entry regardless of their point of departure, according to reports. Some have been deported or remained in detention over the weekend.
The move caused confusion for green card holders, which confer permanent US resident status, with the Department of Homeland Security initially saying green cards were covered by the ban.
The Trump administration issued contradictory statements on green cards over the weekend, saying on Saturday that individual green card holders could apply for national interest waivers, and then on Sunday that all green card holders were exempt.
A White House official told reporters on a conference call on Sunday that 170 people had applied for and been granted such waivers as of midday on Sunday.
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