Why the Tech Industry is Criticizing Trump's Suspension of H-1B Visas
Helpful or harmful?
On June 22nd, President Trump announced a new executive order that suspends employment visas, including those of skilled H-1B visa workers. Revoking these work visas also jeopardizes seasonal hospitality industry workers, students on work-study summer programs, and au pairs. The White House projects that the action will bar almost 525,000 foreign workers from entering the country for employment purposes for the rest of the year. Although some feel as though the restriction is justified given the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences, big tech companies fear they have the most to lose.
The main argument supporting the new order is that halting work visas will create or return more jobs to Americans. As of late May, more than 38.6 million Americans were jobless, but the $600 in federal unemployment benefits given weekly to unemployed Americans is set to end on July 31. While retail, entertainment, sports, and hospitality and tourism industry workers scramble to make ends meet, the technology sector could actually emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. Increased reliance on technology, from online communication tools to e-commerce services, foreshadows the shift in consumer habits that could result from the health crisis. However, Trump’s executive order threatens to slow the progress of these industries. The technology sector relies heavily on the H-1B visa program to hire skilled overseas employees. And, tech executives have repeatedly emphasized the value of immigrant talent to companies’ research and development initiatives and American innovation and infrastructure. Handicapping the technology sector by blocking access to the world’s diverse talent pool under the pretense of protecting jobs that American citizens can’t even fill seems both illogical and immoral. In fact, the order may hinder America’s ability to recover from the current health and economic crisis.
Despite this, supporters continue to emphasize the importance of returning jobs to the American people. The problem, however, is that many companies will face challenges when it comes to filling positions requiring specialized skills, particularly related to STEM. And, the proclamation threatens universities and the future of technological advancement. Immigrants are behind nearly every major breakthrough in STEM—they are the programmers, the data producers, and the future researchers. Immigrant students cannot easily be replaced by American students, who are more averse to pursuing higher education in STEM fields such as computer science and chemistry. Furthermore, the New American Economy found that for every H-1B visa issued, 1.83 new jobs are generated over the following seven years. Since the U.S. currently issues around 85,000 H-1B visas per year, just a one-year freeze would cost our country 155,550 jobs. As if that wasn’t enough, the Trump administration may follow up this executive order with one targeting the Optional Professional Training (OPT) program that allows students to work for U.S. companies after graduation. A 60% restriction on OPT would destroy 443,000 jobs, including 255,000 now held by American-born workers.
Clearly, Trump’s H-1B visa ban is misguided and baseless. The hundreds of thousands of jobs it will supposedly create doesn’t seem to be worth the threat it presents to the technology industry. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, among many other industry leaders, are visibly disappointed by the move. What will immigration and the technology sector look like for the next six months?