On January 27, Donald Trump signed an executive order to halt immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for at least 90 days, to ban refugees for at least 120 days, and to prevent Syrians from entering the United States indefinitely. The order's ramifications have already been felt as at least over 100 newborns, families, the elderly, and everyone in between has been detained at airports or stranded in other countries with no way to get back into the U.S. Many tech companies are concerned that this order also threatens to hinder their ability to continue conducting their businesses.
Part of the problem could stem from a loss of talent. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email (according to the Wall Street Journal) that at least 187 of the company's employees will be affected by this ban. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella--an immigrant himself--publicly shared an email (opens in new tab) showing the company's support for any workers affected by the order. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticized the decision and pointed out that his grandparents emigrated to the United States from Germany, Austria, and Poland. The message from these high-profile companies seems to be that many in the tech industry are immigrants or are descended from recent immigrants, and bans like this one could have prevented some of the world's most influential companies from ever being created.
Further, a study published in March 2016 by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy said that more than half of the country's billion-dollar startups had at least one immigrant founder, while 70% "had at least one immigrant helping the company grow and innovate by filling a key management or product development position." The group recommended making immigration easier, not harder, and said "new immigration restrictions would likely prevent many future cutting edge companies from being established in the United States."
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said something similar in a memo to employees on January 29. The memo--which was published in full by the Oregonian and verified to Tom's Hardware by an Intel spokesperson--reads in part:
First, as the grandson of immigrants and the CEO of a company that was co-founded by an immigrant, we believe that lawful immigration is critical to the future of our company and this nation. One of the founding cultural behaviors at Intel is constructive confrontation where you focus on the issue, and not on the person or organization. The statement we submitted today does just that. It focuses on the issues. We will continue to make our voice heard that we believe immigration is an important part of making Intel and America all that we can be. I have heard from many of you and share your concern over the recent executive order and want you to know it is not a policy we can support.
Even if this ban is reversed, it could scare people from thinking about working in the American tech industry. That's the long-term effect. The short-term effect is that many tech workers might have to worry about their ability to stay in the United States or to come back if they visit another country. Amazon said in an email to employees that they shouldn't travel outside the country if they're already here, that it's working on a contingency plan for employees traveling when the ban hit, and that anyone who lives outside the United States and was planning to visit should put those plans on hold.
AMD told Tom's Hardware that it's advised employees who might be affected by the ban not to travel in or out of the United States:
AMD’s core beliefs around inclusion and diversity fundamentally differ from the views demonstrated in the recent executive order banning travelers from certain countries. AMD believes that a diverse and inclusive workplace benefits our company and fuels innovation, this includes our talented employees from the restricted countries. While we await further clarity from the U.S. Administration on this travel ban, we have advised AMD’s workforce from these countries to cease travel to or from the United States. We fully support all of our foreign-born workforce and will continue working with them to limit any potential personal hardships based on this executive order.
When Tom's Hardware asked Nvidia if it had a statement on the ban, a representative replied: "We do not." The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), of which Nvidia is a member (along with many other companies), did issue a statement that reads in part:
This hasty executive order is unlikely to achieve the desired goal and instead damages the principles that make this country a place immigrants aspire to work. In the short term, it left companies scrambling to aid valuable employees with legal work visas, and in the long term risks our economy and safety.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a non-political group that works on the internet's architecture and operation, echoed those concerns in its own statement:
The IETF does not make comments on political matters. But we do comment on topics that affect the IETF and the Internet. Specifically, the recent action by the United States government to bar entry by individuals from specific nations raises concerns for us—not only because upcoming IETF meetings are currently scheduled to take place in the U.S., but also because the action raises uncertainty about the ability of U.S.-based IETF participants to travel to and return from IETF meetings held outside the United States.
Other short term effects result from the money and effort tech companies are spending to fight the ban. Lyft pledged $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fight the executive order. Google reportedly created a crisis fund (opens in new tab) that will donate up to $4 million to the ACLU, International Rescue Committee, and other rights organizations. Venture capitalists like Chris Sacca, tech executives like Tony Fadell, and others said on Twitter that they would match donations to ACLU. They've donated $260,298 so far, and other members of the tech community have made similar contributions.
That isn't chump change. Nor is the effort it must have taken for Periscope to add a "proudly made in America by immigrants" stamp to its app, or for Playdots to update Two Dots and Dots & Co to encourage donations to ACLU, or for Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia to support Washington state's suit opposing Trump's order. These efforts are meaningful, but they could also distract from the companies' primary missions. Tech companies are not charities or activist organizations--devoting money and time to this cause means those resources aren't going towards work on the innovations on which the tech industry relies.
Critics have said Trump's order is "cowardly and dangerous," that it's "malevolence tempered by incompetence," and that its principles are "forbidden under human rights law." It's laudable for Silicon Valley to support humanitarian issues, but the tech industry's efforts also lend another form of criticism against the ban: simply, that innovation won't continue at the same pace if the United States closes its borders to the best and brightest minds out there.