Big Tech Struggles with Immigration Policies

As the continued failure of immigration reform measure remains a hallmark of Congressional leadership, large technology companies ponder the future of their workforce. The lack of political direction forces leaders in the technology industry to prepare for a wide range of scenarios to ensure the best outcomes for the business and for people working in the business.

For executives at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp., the conversation around potential immigration policy outcomes is well underway.

“We do worry about a couple of very specific immigration questions that people appear to be debating in Washington,” Brad Smith, Microsoft president, and the chief legal officer tell CNBC.

Referring to President Donald Trump’s targeting of immigration policies adopted during President Barack Obama’s time in office, Microsoft officials’ concerns include policies around H-1B nonimmigrant visas as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) foreign-born graduates from U.S. universities.

H-1B nonimmigrant visas, heavily used among tech companies, allow highly-skilled foreign-born nationals to live and work in the United States with employer sponsorship. Under President Obama-era rule, some spouses of H-1B visa holders gain work authorization. While the rule still stands, Trump Administration officials last year floated the idea of revoking the spousal permissions.

In the second instance, a rule adopted by the former president allows STEM graduates to continue employment while still awaiting a work visa. With a tightening of the requirements under President Trump, Microsoft’s Smith says further changes could affect “hundreds of employees who would lose their ability to work in the United States.”

Rather than leaving foreign-born workers high and dry, according to CNBC, tighter regulations “could leave Microsoft with no choice but to help those affected employees work somewhere else.” In other words, jobs now located in the United States potentially move to 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,” Smith says in the interview. “We’re not going to cut people loose. We’re going to stand behind them,” including representing affected employees in court.