Saturday, July 31, 2021

Biden is undoing Trump’s immigration record but slower than tech would like

The inauguration of President Biden raised hopes in the tech industry after four years of restrictive immigration policies.

Although the Biden administration ended a Trump- era ban on certain kinds of visas that are widely used in the tech industry, critics say that Biden’s overall record has been mixed as he slowly makes modest changes in a few areas. Effective immigration policies may be pushed back because of how busy the  administration is as it initially focuses on other priorities including vaccinating Americans against COVID-19, boosting the near-term economy and responding to a surge of migrants at the U.S.- Mexico border.

The tech industry is more reliant than any other sector of the economy on skilled labor from overseas. Immigrants now lead many of the industry’s biggest companies including Google and Microsoft where more than half of tech workers were born abroad.

The tech industry was targeted by former President Trump for restrictions during his term, arguing that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans. Trump imposed a series of bureaucratic and regulatory changes that limited the number of available visas and extended the time it took to apply and led to denials of applications that should have been accepted under existing law.

In other areas of immigration policy, tech industry lobbying groups are waiting on formal action to back up statements from the Biden administration. The National Venture Capital Association and other organizations sent a letter to the Homeland Security Department asking to add more resources to a visa program intended to startup founders.

Potential immigrants and employers are waiting to see what the Biden administration does with H-1B visas, a category that applies to specialty workers. The Trump administration planned to scrap the lottery system for allocating H-1B visas and switch to a wage-based system. Biden put that plan on hold in February without detailing future plans.

The  administration also hasn’t said what it plans to do with a Trump-era rule requiring visa applicants to disclose their social media identifiers, a rule that tech companies have argued violates free speech. Ashima Duggal, an immigration lawyer stated, “If those numbers don’t increase quickly, the U.S. economy is going to feel that for years to come, especially California and Silicon Valley which are a significant source of growth in the U.S. economy — for revenues, for employment — and that entire ecosystem is in danger because of the lack of visas available for entrepreneurs and professionals.”

NBC