Tech execs trash Trump travel ban

The U.S. tech sector has widely criticized President Donald Trump's travel ban. What could it mean for Canadian tech companies?

How the ban impacts Canada's tech sector

U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders calling for the 'extreme vetting' of visa seekers from terror-plagued countries. (Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
  We've heard many different reactions to Donald Trump's executive order that restricts travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries. We've heard from legal experts, politicians, citizens…but what about the tech industry?

Demonstrators gathered at airports across the U.S. to protest against the executive order that President Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

What are tech leaders saying about the travel ban?

What's interesting to me is how we've seen not just official statements from companies themselves, but personal statements from their executives and investors. Part of that may be related to just how many successful U.S. tech startups were founded by immigrants.

The thread running through much of the reaction is concern. Concern that changes in immigration policy could disrupt innovation in the tech sector. Of course, there's the executive order restricting travel into the U.S. But we're also seeing reports that Trump's administration has drafted another executive order that would make substantial changes to visa programs, like the H1-B visa, which tech companies often use to hire highly-skilled foreign workers in the U.S.

What are some of tech's biggest companies saying about the travel ban?

Over the weekend, Apple's CEO Tim Cook wrote a memo to employees about the executive order. He said, "It is not a policy we support."

Apple CEO Time Cook denounced the travel ban. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Cook also wrote that "There are employees at Apple who are directly affected" by the order, and said "Apple would not exist without immigration," a reference to Steve Jobs, whose father was a Syrian migrant.

  Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, also wrote a note to employees. In it, he said that more than 100 Google employees are affected by the order, and that "it's painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai created a crisis fund in response to the ban. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

  Microsoft and Facebook both issued statements expressing concern. In addition to their companies' official statements, CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella made their own statements through their personal social media accounts. Zuckerberg posting to his Facebook page, wrote: "We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed concern. (Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters)

Donations to the American Civil Liberties Union are at an all-time high. What's the tech industry's role in that?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported more than $24 million in donations in a single weekend, which is six times their average annual online donations. According to the ACLU, that came from more than 350,000 donors, including some high-profile tech executives and investors.

For instance, Chris Sacca — who was an early investor in both Twitter and Uber — tweeted over the weekend that he would match donations to the ACLU up to $150,000. A number of tech high flyers followed suit, promising to match pledges to the ACLU.

It's not just coming from individuals, either. In response to the executive order, Google created what they call a "crisis fund." It's valued at $4 million, to be donated to four organizations, including the ACLU. Google is matching employee donations up to $2 million, which makes it the largest crisis campaign they've ever created.

What about on-the-ground action?

  We saw an interesting example of this over the weekend, from Airbnb, the short-term rental company. Airbnb's CEO tweeted his disapproval of Trump's travel ban. He then announced that Airbnb will provide "free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the U.S."

Home-sharing service Airbnb offered shelter to refugees and anyone banned from entering the U.S. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Then, on Sunday night, Airbnb revealed how it plans to do that. Their specific focus is travellers who found themselves stranded at airports. They set up a special page, where Airbnb users can offer to host people for free. So you can volunteer your home.

  If the need for housing is greater than the number of volunteers, Airbnb says it'll step in and subsidize certain rental. To me, it's an interesting example because Airbnb is contributing something that's unique to them: their very large platform and marketplace of listed homes.

How could the U.S. travel ban impact Canadian tech companies?

Canadian tech companies reported a large influx of resumés immediately following the travel ban. Over the weekend, a group called Tech Without Borders issued an open letter calling for the federal government to offer visas to those displaced by the U.S. executive order, giving them temporary residence in Canada. (Canada already has a fast-track visa program for skilled foreign tech workers.) The letter was signed by a large number of Canadian tech leaders.

Canada's tech sector could benefit from the ban. (Amanda Grant/CBC News)

  It seems that both the travel ban and proposed changes to the U.S. visa program could have a significant impact on Canadian tech companies. If it becomes more difficult for American companies — in particular, Silicon Valley companies — to hire migrants, Canada could gain access to additional talent.

And it's not just Canada. The U.K.'s tech industry is hoping for a talent boost as well. As one advocate put it in the Telegraph, "whilst Americans turn people away at the border, London is open for business." I expect we could see a similar attitude here at home.


Dan Misener

CBC Radio technology columnist

Dan Misener is a technology journalist for CBC radio and Find him on Twitter @misener.