CXO

Will Trump immigration ban affect tech skill shortages at your company?

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending immigration from seven countries. Here are some practical steps your company can take if you are affected by the order.

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Anti-Trump protesters march in San Diego in May 2016.

Image: iStockphoto/shakzu

On Friday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to temporarily suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The move sparked protests around the country, and raised questions about what it would mean for US businesses and foreign-born workers.

Refugee admissions will be suspended for 120 days, in an effort to review and alter the vetting process for potential candidates. The order also aims to limit the number of refugees to 50,000 people within the fiscal year 2017. In fiscal year 2016, the US admitted around 85,000 refugees, of which 38,901 were Muslim.

Immigration will be suspended for 90 days from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as a result of the order. At the Pentagon on Friday, Trump said that he was "establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States."

SEE: Trump's opposition to H-1B visas has experts concerned about filling high-skilled jobs

Lawmakers around the country have pushed back against the order, with many politicians stating their opposition as well. When it led to a man being detained at Kennedy Airport, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill tweeted that it made her "want to throw up."

American businesses, especially those in the tech sector, also felt the effects of the executive order. Silicon Valley leaders such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and others publicly denounced the ban, with some going as far as to provide legal and emotional support for foreign-born workers.

Adams Nager, an economic policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said that the order limits what US businesses could accomplish.

"The United States wants to draw top talent from all across the globe," Nager said. "If we limit our options of who we allow to come into this country, the simple truth is we limit the effectiveness of our workforce and our immigration program—we're not choosing from the best of the best anymore, which is a problem."

Trump is known for his stated opposition to the to the H-1B visa, a specialized work visa that is widely used in tech companies. The H-1B program only has a limited number of visas to give out each year, capped at 65,000, and there are concerns that the executive order is a foreshadowing of a coming cut to that program.

It has also been reported by USA Today that a draft of an executive order to overhaul the H-1B program has been written up. However, Nager doesn't think that the order will further limit the number of visas available. Instead, he thinks that it will eliminate the lottery process for the H-1B program and move it to a review for the best applicants.

Nager also said that the current immigration ban probably won't affect many tech workers, as the majority of H-1B workers are from Eastern Europe, India, or China. However, it will affect some, and it could put some employers in a tough spot.

"If there are cases where an individual has not yet gotten to the United States, but was scheduled to come for an H-1B visa, that comes at a large cost to companies. Imagine hiring someone and then just having them not show up to work," Nager said. "Obviously, there's extenuating circumstances here, but that's going to do a lot of damage to the company."

If you believe that some employees at your organization may be affected by the executive order, there are some practical steps you can take. Kim Thompson, partner and chair of Fisher Phillips' Global Immigration Practice Group, said that employers should start by suspending international work travel for employees who are from one of the seven countries listed in the order.

"Similarly, you should encourage them to remain in the United States and to indefinitely postpone any personal travel plans outside of the United States if possible, even if they have a valid H-1B visa or green card," Thompson said.

Another part of the executive order was a suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program, and Thompson said that could lead to longer visa wait times. "If a visa application is necessary, you should be prepared for your employees to remain outside of the United States for an extended period of time," Thompson said.

Being that the order is so recent, its effects and the information around it are evolving rapidly, said Susan Cohen, founder and chair of Mintz Levin's Immigration Practice. As such, employers should be proactive in communicating with employees and keeping their information up to date.

"HR and legal departments must be brought up to speed about affected employees and everyone must be educated about the situation and its rapid evolution," Cohen said.

Additionally, Christian Zeller, an immigration attorney with Maney | Gordon | Zeller, P.A., said that "business leaders should evaluate their foreign national employees' immigration status, and if they qualify to become permanent residents, petition for them. If a business leader has foreign national employees who are permanent residents, encourage them to become U.S. citizens."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. President Trump recently signed an executive order suspending refugee admissions and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
  2. Many tech executives have spoken out against the ban, offering support for their employees.
  3. The order has compounded fears that Trump could be on his way to limiting the H-1B visa program, which many tech companies utilize.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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