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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft Leads Pushback Against Trump Immigration Order

Feb. 3, 2017
With its letter to secretaries of State and Homeland Security, Microsoft is one of the first companies to publicly write to the government with a specific proposal, one that it says is “not only consistent with the Executive Order, but was contemplated by it.”

Microsoft Corp. is asking U.S. officials to grant exceptions from President Donald Trump’s immigration order for law-abiding, visa-holding workers and students, channeling the outrage expressed by many in the technology industry with a proposed solution.

Such individuals are low-risk — having already undergone a rigorous vetting process — and face immediate hardship as a result of last week’s order, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in a letter Thursday to the secretaries of State and Homeland Security. Smith said he believes the two officials are empowered to take the necessary steps to allow certain people entry into the country. The exemptions sought would cover workers with visas sponsored by U.S.-based companies and students with ones obtained via a U.S.-based school.

“We believe such an exception under the existing framework of the Executive Order would help address compelling personal needs without compromising the Executive Order’s security-related objectives,” Smith wrote in the letter and a related blog post.

The U.S. tech industry responded immediately and with outrage to last Friday’s action from the new president, which set a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as a 120-day halt on all refugees. Leaders of most of the industry’s biggest companies publicly decried the move, as did executives from other industries and human rights organizations, and many recounted tales of immigrant success in this country.

With its letter to the two agencies, Microsoft is one of the first companies to publicly write to the government with a specific proposal, one that it says is “not only consistent with the Executive Order, but was contemplated by it.”

Microsoft argues that because these workers and students — “responsible known travelers with pressing needs” — are well-known to their companies, schools and communities and have been thoroughly scrutinized in order to receive their visas, they represent a lower security risk. Some are also facing immediate, and in some cases significant, hardship under the current order, the company said. 

Microsoft has an employee who is stranded outside the U.S. while the person’s children are here, and another who cannot leave the U.S. to visit a critically ill parent, Smith said in the letter. The company said it has 76 employees who, together with their 41 dependents, have nonimmigrant visas to live and work in the U.S. and are affected by the Executive Order.

Smith noted this proposed solution doesn’t replace broader discussion of the immigration orders.

“At the outset, we recognize that this proposal will not and should not end the broader debate and deliberations regarding last week’s executive order. Our company is one among many that has expressed its views, and we will continue to participate energetically and constructively in the public discussions that help define our democratic processes,” Smith wrote in the blog post.

Separately, Microsoft is also among a group of companies including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Apple Inc., Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., circulating an open letter to Trump expressing concern about the order and offering help to fix it and other policies, according to people familiar with the plan.

Other businesses involved include firms in finance, manufacturing, energy and consumer goods. It’s not clear yet which companies will agree to sign on. The goal is to publish the open letter this week, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Changes are still being made to the document, and it’s possible it may not be released.

“We share your goal of ensuring that our immigration system meets today’s security needs and keeps our country safe,” said a draft of the letter obtained by Bloomberg News. “We are concerned, however, that your recent Executive Order will affect many visa holders who work hard here in the United States and contribute to our country’s success.”

By Dina Bass

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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