Will the Trump administration’s attempt to revamp immigration policy compel tech firms to move jobs overseas?
In a recent interview with CNBC’s Akiko Fujita, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith cited two White House polices as particularly bothersome to Microsoft. First is the Trump administration’s attempted ban on H-4 visas, which allow the spouses of H-1B visa holders to obtain work. Second is the proposed limiting of international graduates’ ability to work in the U.S. while waiting for their work visas to come through.
Although the federal government hasn’t yet initiated the “sweeping” visa reforms promised by Trump during his presidential campaign, Smith suggested that, should big legislative moves take place, Microsoft might be forced to move tech jobs overseas. In other words, if certain tech employees can’t work in the U.S. due to current law, Microsoft will set them up in another country.
“We don’t want to move jobs out of the United States and we hope that we don’t see decision making in Washington that would force us to do that,” he told the network.
The tech industry relies heavily on H-1B, with companies claiming the visas allow them to source talent unavailable domestically. Critics, of course, argue that firms abuse the system to import cheaper labor. According to a recent survey by The Mercury News, some 71 percent of Bay Area residents (many of whom work in tech) believe that the number of H-1B visas doled out annually should be kept the same or increased.
Despite the White House’s attempts at immigration restriction, the overall number of H-1B visas filed and accepted has gone up during Trump’s time in office. For every 100 workers, Silicon Valley has 2.2 H-1B visa holders; Washington D.C. (and surrounding areas such as Arlington, Virginia) have 2 per 100 employees, suggesting that demand for the visa also remains high in other tech hubs.
However visa reform progresses over the next few years, it remains to be seen whether tech giants such as Microsoft really will shift workforces overseas (or even just to Canada) rather than deal with the U.S. immigration system. Of course, many tech companies don’t have offices in other countries.