Google, Facebook Show Tech Dismay on Trump Immigration Order

  • Google CEO tells affected staff traveling overseas to return
  • Facebook laments ban; Microsoft says 76 employees affected

Greetham: Markets Willing to Look Through Trump Risk

Alphabet Inc.’s Google asked staffers who may have been affected by a new executive order on immigration to return to the U.S. quickly, joining a growing number of technology executives voicing concerns over restrictions that could interfere with how they do business.

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai slammed President Donald Trump’s move in a note to employees Friday, telling them that more than 100 company staff had been affected by the order. Microsoft Corp. said it was in touch with 76 staffers from the seven countries identified in the executive order. They received a reprieve on Saturday after two judges temporarily blocked the Trump administration from enforcing the order that would have led to the removal from U.S. airports of refugees, visa holders and legal U.S. residents from seven mostly Muslim countries.

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”

The comments underscore a growing rift between the Trump administration and several large U.S. technology companies, which employ many immigrants and have lobbied for fewer immigration restrictions. Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg voiced concern over the policy on Friday, and Airbnb Inc. CEO Brian Chesky said Saturday in a tweet that “closing doors further divides” people. Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet Saturday the order’s “humanitarian and economic impact is real and upsetting.”

Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Travis Kalanick said Saturday he plans to outline his misgivings with the order at the first meeting of the Trump administration’s business advisory group next Friday in Washington.

Stranded Drivers

Uber had about a dozen staffers affected by the order, as well as a number of drivers, Kalanick said in an e-mailed statement. 

“This order has far broader implications as it also affects thousands of drivers who use Uber and come from the listed countries, many of whom take long breaks to go back home to see their extended family. These drivers currently outside of the U.S. will not be able to get back into the country for 90 days,” he said. He said Uber was working out a plan to compensate those drivers stranded abroad.

Trump signed the executive order on Friday prohibiting entry by people from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days. Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen would be banned from entering the U.S. for the period, while the government determines what information it needs to safely admit visitors.

Airbnb will provide free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed into the U.S., Chesky, the home-stay network’s CEO, said on Twitter. “Stayed tuned for more, contact me if urgent need for housing,” he wrote.

Some visa and green-card holders were blocked from boarding flights to the U.S. after the order was issued and several people were being detained at U.S. airports when they arrived, the New York Times reported. The Department of Homeland Security issued a directive on Friday afternoon ordering the Customs and Border Control agency to enforce the order immediately.

Barriers for Talent

“We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S.,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”

Some Google employees were traveling abroad and were trying to get back to the U.S. before the order took effect. The company asked them to reach out to Google’s security, travel, and immigration teams for assistance, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person asked not to be identified talking about internal company communications.

Google declined to say Saturday whether any employees were detained or blocked from boarding flights.

Rushing Home

The employees in question normally work in the U.S. but just happened to be abroad either on work assignments or vacations. One employee rushed back from a trip to New Zealand to make it into the U.S. before the order was signed, Google’s Pichai wrote in his memo.

“We are advising our clients from those seven countries who have green cards or any type of H-1B visa not to travel outside the U.S.,” said Ava Benach, a partner at immigration law firm Benach Collopy LLP, while noting that the order takes effect immediately.

“No one is really sure whether a green card holder from these seven countries can return to the U.S. now. It’s fairly clear that an H-1B visa holder can’t,” Benach said. The H-1B lets U.S. companies employ graduate-level workers from other countries in technical occupations such as technology, engineering and science.

“If anyone in these situations has the misfortune to have gone abroad recently, it’s a treacherous moment, possibly for green card holders too,” Benach said.

Other technology companies are likely in a similar situation, she added.

Microsoft Memo

Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in a memo to staff Saturday that the company is working with affected personnel and that it supports immigration policies that “protect the public without sacrificing people’s freedom of expression or religion.”

Microsoft also affirms “the importance of protecting legitimate and law-abiding refugees whose very lives may be at stake in immigration proceedings,” Smith wrote.

Immigration restrictions “may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts,” Microsoft said in a securities filing on Thursday.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg said Friday he was “concerned” by Trump’s recent moves to restrict immigration.

A blanket entry ban “is not the best way to address the country’s challenges,” Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk said Saturday on Twitter.

“Many people negatively affected by this policy are strong supporters of the U.S.,” Musk wrote. “They’ve done right, not wrong and don’t deserve to be rejected.” In a separate statement, Tesla added: “We hope that this temporary action by the administration transitions to a fair and thoughtful long-term policy.”

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