President Trump has already received blowback for his decision to ban immigrants from seven Muslim nations, and a potential executive order could have the tech community up in arms.
The administration plans to overhaul several U.S. work visa programs in an effort to recoup American jobs, according to a Bloomberg report. These programs, including the H-1B, L-1, E-2, and B-1 visas, have helped to bring tens of thousands of foreign nationals to American soil each year. Tech giants are major beneficiaries of the H-1B program in particular. It grants temporary nonimmigrant visas for specialized foreign labor. In 2014, Apple received 443 of these visas, with 728 going to Google, and 877 to Amazon, according to the most recent available data.
"Our country's immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest," the administration's draft proposal is said to read. "Visa programs for foreign workers...should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers--our forgotten working people--and the jobs they hold." If implemented, the reforms would force businesses to hire American first, with priority given to the most highly paid of the foreign workers, according to Bloomberg.
Entrepreneurs across the country have already expressed their outrage at the proposal to overhaul the H-1B program--specifically the prospect of limiting the number of visas offered.
"This would be an utter disaster," says Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO Tusk Ventures, a New York City venture capital firm that helps tech startups navigate government regulation. Tusk's firm has invested in companies including Uber, FanDuel, and General Assembly. "To take American companies that aren't able to hire the talent they need from within [the U.S.] and then limit their ability to do it externally, all [Trump] is doing is empowering startups from the rest of the world to beat American startups," Tusk adds. "If his goal is to weaken American innovation and the tech economy, the best way to do that would be to limit H-1B visas."
An Imperfect Program
Of course, H-1B visas have their flaws. The program, run since 1990 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, begins accepting petitions each April from hundreds of thousands of companies. USCIS has a cap of 85,000 visas, which--for the past four years--has been reached within just days of the opening date. Small businesses are often at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to winning these visas, analysts note, as larger companies may flood the application pool, while smaller businesses can only afford to make a few bets on those most critical to their operations.
Others allege that some companies abuse the system, hiring overseas labor and paying them a lower salary, rather than paying the appropriate salary to an American worker. Consider that in 2015, India-based outsourcing companies Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services won the greatest share of H-1B visas, despite paying lower-than-average salaries of around $76,000 and $67,000, respectively, according to MyVisaJobs, a website that tracks H-1B visas applications and usage. Facebook employees bring in the highest median salary of $116,800, according to PayScale data.
That's why Gopal Krishnamurthy, the founder and CEO of Visual BI Solutions, is optimistic about the Trump administration's plan to change the program. His Plano, Texas-based I.T. services company has 48 U.S. employees, around half of which are on some form of work visa, with 14 on H-1Bs specifically. Krishnamurthy has long seen the application process as unnecessarily onerous for small businesses.
A Mixed Perspective
"To be frank, I'm looking forward to this change," Krishnamurthy tells Inc. "What I'm hoping is that they cut down on the paperwork and the regulations [for companies]." To his point, petitions for H-1B visas cost upwards of $1,000, and are often plucked for consideration from a lottery. Even those that make it through can be denied for a clerical error. H-1B applications can range from 40 to 400 pages, according to immigration attorney Delisa Bressler.
Still, Krishnamurthy concedes that doing away with the H-1B visa program altogether could be fatal to technology companies. "This country cannot afford to get rid of the program," he says, inasmuch as the talent needed to support such businesses can't typically be found on U.S. soil.
One way that Trump could improve the work visas would be to encourage more U.S. citizens to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. Says Tusk Venture's Tusk, "Trump should invest in coding and engineering schools."
For some entrepreneurs, like Jiri Stejskal, the founder and CEO of Cetra Language Solutions in Philadelphia, rose-colored glasses are just impossible to don. Stejskal escaped from the former Czechoslovakia as a political refugee in 1986, and today hires project managers to oversee translations from overseas.
"I view [an H-1B visa overhaul] as a very negative development. It's a huge step back," Stejskal says. His business, which does around $6 million in annual revenue, sponsors two workers on H-1B visas and one on an L-1 visa. He's considering hiring foreign nationals for his offices abroad, though he notes that his business would suffer from not having the "best and brightest" at the U.S. headquarters, where most project managers currently work.
"I'm just really discouraged by the state of the current political situation," he adds. "I was so proud to be a U.S. citizen, and now I'm almost ashamed to say that I'm from America."