Trump Win Is Silicon Valley’s Loss on Immigration

U.S. technology companies large and small rely on immigrants. Now after arguing for years without much success for the government to relax limits on skilled foreign tech workers, the political winds are blowing in the opposite direction.

It is clear Silicon Valley is a mini-nation of immigrants. More than half of U.S. tech startups valued at $1 billion or more have at least one immigrant founder, according to an analysis this year by the National Foundation for American Policy, an immigration research group. Two of the three largest companies in the world by market cap are led by immigrants to the United States — Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. In two Silicon Valley counties, about two-thirds of people working in computing and mathematics fields are foreign-born, according to a study by research firm Joint Venture Silicon Valley using 2014 U.S. government data.

The big unknown is whether a Donald Trump presidency will lead to a technology immigration talent drain, either by choice or by policy.

Fueled by Immigrants

In two Silicon Valley counties, two-thirds of workers in computing and math occupations were born outside the United States. Other occupations also have large shares of immigrant employees.

Of course it’s not clear what immigration policies might be pursued by the incoming Trump administration or by a Congress with a clear Republican majority in both the House and Senate. During his campaign, of course, Trump advocated for stricter limits on immigration.

His views certainly make it unlikely that one of the tech industry’s top policy agenda items for years — an expansion of the H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers — will happen soon. The program is aimed at foreign employees considered to have specialized skills, and tech executives are eager to raise the current cap of 85,000 people a year granted such visas.

By Shira Ovide for Bloomberg
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