Tech advocates in Washington are eager to work with the incoming Biden administration and reverse many of President Trump's immigration policies, especially those that created barriers for high skilled visa holders.
Some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley have clashed with the Trump administration in court, suing over his executive orders restricting immigration for foreign workers. They’re now making clear to the next administration that nixing Trump's actions are the industry’s top priority for 2021.
The Trump administration announced new immigration rules last month designed to make it more difficult for skilled workers to acquire visas. The rules tighten requirements for employers who hire workers on H-1B visas, which are set aside for skilled workers, particularly in the technology field.
TechNet, a group of industry executives from companies like Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Google, filed amicus briefs in support of lawsuits challenging the new rules.
If they’re unsuccessful, they hope President-elect Joe Biden will rescind or revise the rules.
“They’ve indicated they are going to be very different than the Trump administration on high-skilled immigration, immigration in general,” said TechNet CEO Linda Moore. “High-skilled immigration…has led to so much growth and technological superiority and competitiveness for the U.S.”
The Biden transition team declined to comment.
TechNet has been active in the courts challenging Trump’s immigration policies. In addition to the most recent lawsuit, it joined other business groups in July to sue over an executive order suspending the issuance of certain temporary worker visas through the end of 2020.
The court later sided with the business groups by exempting them from the order.
"TechNet sued the Trump Administration to stop these worker visa restrictions and we won. Any rules that impose stricter standards around H-1B visas will have zero impact on increasing American jobs and will harm our country's ability to recover from the pandemic just as cases are beginning to rise again,” Moore said. “They should allow the incoming administration to set the tone on immigration policy as our country moves forward under President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris."
But before Biden takes office, Silicon Valley is worried Trump could clamp down even harder on worker visas.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly said on a recent call that the president is seeking to finalize a rule to make the standards stricter around H-1B visas, separate from rules announced last month.
When reached for comment, the White House defended Trump’s actions but would not comment on any future orders.
“Since taking office, President Trump has never shied away from using his lawful executive authority to advance bold policies and fulfill the promises he made to the American people, but I won’t speculate or comment on potential executive action,” a White House spokesman told The Hill.
A Trump executive order can be reversed by Biden when he takes office. The process is much quicker than attempting to rollback agency regulations like the one from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in October.
That rule, which takes effect on Dec. 7, will limit the types of positions that would be eligible for a H1-B visa. A separate Labor Department rule that took effect immediately last month requires employers to increase the amount they pay to H-1B recipients.
The rules were published as interim final rules, meaning they didn’t allow for the typical public notice or comment period. That sparked three lawsuits -- one in Washington, D.C., one in San Francisco and one in New Jersey -- to challenge the new rules.
If the rules take effect, Biden next year could ask for a delay in any court proceedings pertaining to the rules to allow his administration to review them and consider rescinding or amending them.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has also been active in the lawsuits against Trump’s visa orders, recently noted that the Biden team has indicated they would reverse some of those policies.
“We see improvement there. There is still a lot more work that requires Congress’s attention when it comes to immigration,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber, said on a recent call with reporters.
Moore argued that the visa restrictions put in place by Trump are putting tech companies at a disadvantage.
“Every time we talk about immigration reform, we make sure to highlight what is really challenging and that is that America is not producing enough STEM graduates. If we were, we would be less dependent on H-1B and other high skilled visas,” she said, referring to graduates in science, technology, engineering and math.