Four views: How will the work visa ban affect tech and which changes will last?

The Trump administration’s decision to extend its ban on issuing work visas to the end of this year “would be a blow to very early-stage tech companies trying to get off the ground,” Silicon Valley immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn told TechCrunch this week.

In 2019, the federal government issued more than 188,000 H-1B visas — thousands of workers who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and other startup hubs hold H-1B and H-2B visas or J and L visas, which are explicitly prohibited under the president’s ban. Normally, the government would process tens of thousands of visa applications and renewals in October at the start of its fiscal year, but the executive order all but guarantees new visas won’t be granted until 2021.

Four TechCrunch staffers analyzed the president’s move in an attempt to see what it portends for the tech industry, the U.S. economy and our national image:

Danny Crichton: Trump’s ban is a “self-inflicted” blow to our precarious economy

America’s economic supremacy is increasingly precarious.

Outsourcing and offshoring led to a generational loss of manufacturing skills, management incompetence killed off many of the country’s leading businesses and the nation now competes directly with China and other countries in critical emerging industries like 5G, artificial intelligence and the other alphabet soup of technological acronyms.

We have one thing going for us that no other country can rival: our ability to attract top talent. No other country hosts more immigrants, nor does any other country capture the imagination of a greater portion of the world’s top minds. America — whether Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, Harvard Square or anywhere in between — is where smart people congregate.

Or at least, it was.

The coronavirus was the first major blow, partially self-inflicted. Remote work pushed employers toward keeping workers where they are (both domestically and overseas) rather than centralizing them in a handful of corporate HQs. Meanwhile, students — the first step for many talented workers to enter the United States — are taking a pause, fearing renewed outbreaks of COVID-19 in America while much of the rest of the developed world reopens with few cases.

The second blow was entirely self-inflicted. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would halt processing critical worker visas like the H-1B due to the current state of the American economy.

The combination is a disaster for startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley, which thrive on a constant flow of new and ambitious talent. But it’s also a huge opportunity for other countries and cities to take advantage of the country’s stupidity and mismanagement so they can attract and retain the next generation of knowledge leaders.

For companies, that starts with rethinking what “in-person” means going forward and how to operate in a much more international arena. How can you support and grow your workforce globally, including for workers who want to remain in their home countries and also for Americans who are looking to sojourn or migrate permanently?

While much of this is “culture,” there is also a growing number of software tools available that can help organizations be just as productive, even when decentralized. Even better, there are clearer best practices on how to communicate and document work to make it easier for colleagues to hand off their projects to each other. Plus, there are a number of new SaaS platforms that can make global payroll simpler (and in some cases, even better than existing incumbents like ADP and Workday). Finally, there are a number of startups offering tools that can help with immigration hurdles and securing work permits.

Meanwhile, for workers, there is increasingly reason to believe that we all need to think carefully about the geographies we inhabit. An inept and slow government can easily put you and your cherished ones at risk, and some cities like San Francisco and New York City face such severe fiscal shortfalls that it is hard to see how they can navigate the impending financial morass.

The great news is that there are many tools to make migrating easier today. Apple’s new Translation product coming in iOS 14 and similar features on Android can make it easier to navigate a new country. Although more work needs to be done, streaming services increasingly have better infrastructure to handle global customers, meaning that you can see the movies or listen to the music you want to no matter where you are. There are also better and more focused digital communities that can help migrants acculturate to any new location and build fresh friendships.

As for governments — this is perhaps the single best time in recent memory to try to intercept some of that stream of talent that has always had America at the top of its list. Attracting these folks requires a comprehensive approach however, including simplifying immigration processes, opening up regulations for new businesses, heavily funding innovation, research and new ventures, and offering a welcome culture to new ideas. Few countries have gotten right all the ingredients required, but if any one does, they are in pole position to take talent leadership away from the United States.

America’s decline as a hub of the world’s best talent didn’t have to happen, and there is still time for it to recover. But for startups, workers and governments today, there is no better moment to consider the facts as they are, and potentially change plans to adapt to where the future is going, rather than where the past has been.

Natasha Mascarenhas: Innovative immigrants will follow their dreams elsewhere

By nature and seemingly without choice, all immigrants are entrepreneurs. They are forced to be gritty, navigate ambiguity with confidence and face stress-tests on the daily. Money-wise, they tend to be prudent — just ask my father, who will proudly point to the fact that he came to the United States with a few dollars and no connections.

Immigrants aren’t just entrepreneurs, they’re damn good ones.

Just look at Zoom, the pandemic-defining company whose video-conferencing software has brought us to parties, graduations and funerals as we keep our distance from one another. The firm was founded by Eric S. Yuan, an immigrant who was refused his U.S visa eight times before he finally received it.

The biggest impact of the president’s executive order will be losing founders who break through traditional barriers. Mind you, these entrepreneurs will find places to start their companies that are far more welcoming, or as one immigration lawyer put it, “with a red carpet.” But America will lose that vigor.

Immigrant entrepreneurs are living proof that anyone can make it in America and we can choose to embrace diversity. I am so much more interested in telling the story of an investor who started from nothing and closed a $3 million microfund than an investor who closed a debut fund of $300 million. You can’t bullet-point the immigrant experience.

Michelle Obama spoke at a Dropbox conference last year, where she said success is more than just breaking through the ceiling and snagging a seat for yourself; it’s about making sure you make an opening for someone else — someone traditionally underrepresented — to sit there. And shine.

The immigration ban, which still has more to come, hurts the future of open seats. It hurts the future of naturally born entrepreneurs. And by the time America’s innovation economy realizes that, the golden ticket will have completely lost its shine.

Zack Whittaker: Banning work visas “puts America at a disadvantage on the world stage”

America was built on immigration. Without it, we wouldn’t have some of the sharpest and smartest minds in tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was born in India. 23andMe’s co-founder Anne Wojcicki is a descendant of Russian and Polish heritage. And Tesla chief executive Elon Musk was born and raised in South Africa.

Immigrants didn’t just build this country; they propelled it into the digital age. Everything we’ve worked for in this country in the past 60 years (since the dawn of silicon) has been in large part thanks to immigration, earned by hard-working, dedicated and undeterred people who just happen to have been born abroad.

But the Trump administration’s move to slam the door to these kinds of workers who — to use his own words — Make America Great — is not only a slap in the face to them, it’s a shot in the foot to America.

Immigration keeps America diverse, which helps keep Silicon Valley diverse. Silicon Valley is central to so many parts of our lives, from search and shopping to socializing, and why it’s critical that the tech giants are staffed by the same people they want to serve around the world. By bringing people in from all walks of life, backgrounds and beliefs, these workers bring knowledge and experience that would otherwise go missed.

To understand a culture or a demographic, you need people from those cultures and demographics.

Immigration is also a check and balance on those same tech companies. Having a diverse set of backgrounds brings new and different ideas and perspectives to the table, where traditional backgrounds might not have, particularly in areas that technology frequently touches, like surveillance and facial recognition, which disproportionately affects Black and brown communities.

Trump’s immigration ban will hurt these efforts — worse, at a time when the national conversation revolves around minority and marginalized communities, of which many are home to immigrants. It makes America less diverse, less inclusive, and it puts America at a disadvantage on the world stage.

That’s a very different America from the one I immigrated to.

Alex Wilhelm: “Immigration is an all-around good”

Everyone I see in the current administration arguing against immigration is pretty damn white, so I have a suspicion about their motives. But apart from being generally opposed to bigots, limiting immigration in America is a self-defeating exercise. Unless, of course, one prefers that the country slip into economic irrelevance.

In favor of immigration — both high-skill and more general admission — it’s easy to note that immigrants found far more business, on average, than native-born Americans, commit less crime and, critically, can help us fix our falling birth rate.

The impacts of these various facts are obvious: More entrepreneurship helps drive economic vigor, having more folks doing less crime is great and an improved national birth rate will help the country better afford its retiring elders.

So, immigration is an all-around good, unless you think this country is only for folks who came here before a certain year, or who have a certain skin color.

Continuing, it would be easy to point to immigrant-founded companies that have become towering American giants as evidence of the intelligence of letting more folks come to America. In 2017, QZ reported that 216 companies out of the Fortune 500 were founded by American immigrants or their children. Do you salivate at the idea of corporate profits? Then you have to love immigration, period.

There’s other good stuff as well, like learning from other cultures. Immigration is a holistic good, frankly, and given how empty most of our country remains, is something that we should actively encourage, not diminish.

And it’s personal to me. My mom’s mom was an immigrant entrepreneur. She helped my mom and dad buy their first house, if I recall family lore correctly. My parents were also entrepreneurs, for what it’s worth. No, they didn’t build a Fortune 500 company, or even a Fortune 50,000 if we’re being honest, but that company helped put my siblings through the best American universities before going on to the best grad schools. All of which was founded upon my grandmother coming here and building something.

Immigrants don’t just get the job done, as the cliché says: they often create the damn job to be done.