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.