Some of the biggest companies in tech have been publicly advocating for Congress to establish a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” or people who have lived in the U.S. without official authorization since arriving in the country as minors.
Those tech companies, including IBM, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft, HP, Amazon, and Salesforce, co-signed a letter earlier in March asking for a permanent legislative solution. “Continued delay or inaction will cause significant negative economic and social impact on businesses and hundreds of thousands of deserving young people across the country,” that letter added.
Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), established by the Obama administration in 2012, “Dreamers” are eligible for work permits in the U.S., along with deferred action from deportation. The Trump administration announced plans to wind down DACA, unleashing a series of lawsuits. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that preserved and strengthened DACA.
Tech companies’ push on DACA is yet another sign that the technology industry is trying its best to sway the Biden administration in particular directions with regard to immigration. During the Trump administration, many of these companies pushed back hard against attempts by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security to restrict the H-1B and H-4 EAD visas, largely via lawsuits in response to new legislation.
The Biden administration is still relatively new, and its ultimate intentions with regard to immigration are somewhat unclear. For example, although a Trump-era ban on H-1B visas is still technically in place, registration for the H-1B visa lottery for fiscal year 2022 is slated to kick off March 9, running through the end of the month. Meanwhile, although Biden seems intent on unwinding many of Trump’s policies, his U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would prioritize visas based on wages—an idea first floated during his predecessor’s tenure.
Tech companies have praised what they view as Biden’s commitment to immigration reform. “In the weeks and months to come, business leaders look forward to working with the Administration, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress, to achieve bipartisan, practical and comprehensive solutions to fix our broken immigration system, including a permanent solution for Dreamers that includes a path to citizenship,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a January 2021 statement.
Within the tech industry, of course, there’s the view that broad immigration policy—including reforms for Dreamers and H-1B holders—will allow tech companies to remain competitive. “[T]he United States needs to win the international talent competition by improving both STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education and our system for admitting and retaining highly skilled immigrants,” Eric Schmidt, former CEO and chairman of Google, and Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense, wrote in a recent report for the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. Tech executives hope that the Biden administration will make those policies a reality.
Meanwhile, immigration critics (particularly those of the H-1B system) argue that broad policies will undermine the position of tech workers who are U.S. citizens. That side could also take hope in some of the Biden administration’s recent moves, including that proposal to elevate wages for H-1B workers, which undermines the business model of consulting firms widely viewed as abusing the visa. But at this juncture, it’s too early to determine what the Biden administration will actually be able to get through Congress.