Major tech firms such as Twitter and Microsoft don’t want the U.S. government to restrict immigrants who might end up relying on public benefits.
The federal government’s “public charge” rule would determine whether immigrants are more likely to use public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid; those who couldn’t satisfy 20 different factors for economic self-sufficiency would be denied entry. The rule has faced a number of courtroom challenges that so far have prevented it from going into effect. Now, a handful of tech companies have signed an amicus brief filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (PDF), putting their public weight behind rescinding the rule.
Those companies argue that the rule will prevent them from hiring the talent they need. From the filing:
“American businesses depend upon an efficient immigration system to ensure that they have access to the talent that they need to grow and succeed. Although the American-citizen workforce is highly skilled, businesses sometimes benefit by hiring foreign nationals for certain positions, often sponsoring these workers for permanent residency. Immigration law has long recognized that, in such circumstances, businesses require pathways (such as H-1B and L-1 visas adjusted to 5 employment-based permanent residency) for foreign nationals to come to and remain in the United States to work… The Rule, however, would restrict American businesses’ ability to hire foreign-born workers, because, under the Rule, many skilled workers who would otherwise have been eligible for permanent residency would now be barred from receiving it.”
In other words, these companies feel that the rule is too broad: “Given the numerous and amorphous factors—and the unfettered discretion given to immigration officials—virtually any applicant could be found to have some basis for a denial.”
Indeed, at least one tech company that signed onto the filing has focused on an aspect that doesn’t involve salary, employment history, or even English proficiency. “Among our concerns with the rule is how it would negatively impact the immigration prospects of people with disabilities,” a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an email to Recode, which is covering the case. “We believe that having a diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities is essential to our mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
Although this rule doesn’t seem to target the kinds of highly skilled immigrants that these companies claim to want to hire, there’s clearly substantial concern that the evaluation factors will still shut down all kinds of immigration applications.
The Trump administration is already squeezing a number of companies attempting to pull in immigrants from overseas, particularly when it comes to the H-1B visa. A recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data found that denial rates for H-1B petitions had shot up 24 percent through the third quarter of fiscal year 2019. While denial rates for tech companies didn’t increase all that much, “business services” and consulting firms (which supply workers on the H-1B visa to companies) definitely felt the pinch.
Here are denial rates for “conventional” tech firms. The anomalous spike in IBM denials is possibly attributable to its consulting/business-services line of business:
And here are the denial rates for consulting firms:
“At least 12 companies that provide professional or IT services to other U.S. companies, including Accenture, Capgemini and others, had denial rates over 30 percent through the first three quarters of FY 2019,” the report (PDF) added. “Most of these companies had denial rates between 2 percent and 7 percent as recently as FY 2015.”
It’s clear that, as the Trump administration attempts to tighten regulation, tech companies are pushing back. How all of this will resolve may ultimately hinge on a few court decisions.