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Trump’s immigration plan would be bad for tech, says BlackBerry CEO

BlackBerry CEO
BlackBerry CEO
BlackBerry CEO John Chen

Even those closest to him probably don’t know what U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will do on a variety of issues, but following through on his promise to end the H-1B immigration plan would deal a serious blow to the U.S. tech industry, says one prominent watcher.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen, a U.S. citizen who was born in Hong Kong, talked to Bloomberg’s Emily Chang Thursday at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, California. One of the subjects they discussed was the election, the result of which Chen said he was “shocked and surprised” by.

When asked how Trump in the White House would affect the technology industry, Chen said he was an optimist and said the result could be favourable in that it might create a more pro-business environment with fewer regulations.

But the BlackBerry CEO cautioned that ending the H-1B visa, something Trump said he would do, would be a mistake.

“I think it’s impractical to end H-1B, I think it would really hurt the country in a very profound way,” said Chen. “Ending H-1B would really hurt literally across the board for all the tech industry, biotech, IT, all the techs. I hope that we don’t get to that point.”

The H-1B i s non-immigrant visa that was introduced under the the Immigration and Nationality Act. It allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in certain specialized situations. The tech industry, a heavy user of the program, has for years lobbied for its expansion.

The Wall Street Journal reported that on the campaign trail, Donald Trump “featured” tech workers who claimed they were replaced by foreigners, but note that he has flip-flopped on the issue multiple times.

H-1B became a election issue, but so was Obamacare, and last week Trump said he would consider not scrapping it, as he had promised to do. And although Trump took a hardline stance on the H-1B issue early in the year, he appeared to change his mind several times as the election cycle moved along.

“I’m changing it, and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country,” he told Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly at the Republican debate in Detroit Michigan on March 3. But he later that day issued a statement that contradicted that assertion, one that can still be found on his website.

“Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration,” said Trump. “The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

Chen admits that as an immigrant who is a registered Republican the issue of whether or not to support Trump with his vote was “problematic”. Now that Trump is actually set to take office, the BlackBerry boss says he has no idea what will happen on immigration issues.

“Nobody really knows what he is going to do next”, he said.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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  1. Have to disagree with Mr. John Chen here. He needs to focus on making Blackberry great again instead of worrying about what Mr. Trump will do next. H1B serves no useful purpose.

  2. Re: H-1B
    The H-1B visa SHOULD bring in top talent to the US. Unfortunately, that’s not what it’s currently being used for. The GAO put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the US Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent” (1). This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they are experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.
    So this means one of two things: either companies are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing PhDs and “the best and brightest” is meaningless), or they’re looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, companies are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 (2), especially those at the Level I and Level II categories.
    Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.
    The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their current survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% (3).
    The visa laws need an overhaul so that the visa is only used for it’s stated purpose – to attract TOP talent.
    (1) GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM – Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
    (2) Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014
    (3) NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey, NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

  3. Well if Chen has to concentrate on international markets and US companies, then he is focused on what he needs to be focused on.

  4. Seems like he keeps getting side tracked by ridiculous questions from the journalists and analysts. Why answer political questions? No comment should suffice. Same goes for Blockchain strategy questions. The strategy roadmap communique needs some serious work.

  5. I disagree, they sign partnerships and deals with ciients all over the world. US market is biggest for everything so everyone has to pay attention.

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