Arguing that Silicon Valley needs the best of the world’s tech labor, a number of giant tech companies are openly standing up against President Donald Trump’s travel ban through public statements, a Super Bowl ad and court filings.
The firms may risk the ire of consumers who agree with Trump but have stated their stance resonates with their need for thousands of highly skilled foreign workers.
According to industry trade group the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an estimated 58 percent of the engineers and other high-skilled workers of the tech sector hail from outside the United States.
“Immigration and innovation go hand in hand,” said Carl Guardino, the CEO of the group. “This cuts so deeply into the bone and marrow of what fuels the innovation economy that very few CEOs feel the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. So people are going to stand up and speak up.”
The tech giants argue the U.S. pool of workers is insufficient to fulfill the need of the companies. Critics of the firms, however, believe the sector favor immigrants because they can pay them less. Still, the companies are arguing the ban would encourage them to move their operations overseas.
“A lot of these companies will really struggle if all of a sudden we turn off the spigot,” said Greg Morrisett, dean of computing and information sciences at Cornell University.
In a court filing set in motion on Sunday against the administration’s travel ban, 97 firms, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, eBay, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter, together spoke of the pioneering spirit of “people who choose to leave everything that is familiar and journey to an unknown land to make a new life.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella both hail from India. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a Russian refugee who relocated to the United States as a boy. The father of Apple’s late co-founder, Steve Jobs, is an immigrant from Syria.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group affirms that half of Silicon Valley firms were co-founded by an immigrant or are presently spearheaded by a CEO originating from outside the country.
The goal of the travel ban put into effect by a Jan. 27 executive order signed by Trump is to protect Americans from terrorists. The temporary ban targets seven Muslim-majority countries.
The 9th circuit court reversed the order on Saturday and is presently hearing arguments by the administration as to the constitutionality of the executive order.
Workers from Google and Comcast have staged walkouts over the travel ban.
The tech firms may alienate American supporters of Trump and his policies. But the risk is not as high as that of, say, a firm that makes products with multiple alternatives on the market.
Consumers are less likely to boycott a Facebook or Google that offer unique services, said digital marketing analyst Rebecca Lieb. People will hesitate to throw out a $2,000 laptop or expensive mobile phone over the issue.
Tech companies may have more to fear from anti-Trump proponents who oppose the ban. Last week, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick abandoned Trump’s council of business leaders following the submission of multiple petitions from Uber customers and employees who were against the ban.
At the same time, the tech companies maintain a global presence and risk alienating foreign customers who would like them to stand up for diversity.
“We interact with a large global ecosystem and our businesses would not be here or be able to thrive without it,” said Aaron Levie, CEO of Box Inc., an online storage service. “So our businesses are extremely sensitive, by default, to things that affect immigration and things that affect our relationship with the broader world.”