Microsoft sought to reassure and offer legal assistance Saturday to employees affected by President Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
Trump’s order, signed Friday, suspended entry of all refugees to the U.S. for 120 days, and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also halted, for 90 days, entry into the U.S. for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In an email to employees Saturday afternoon, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the company was aware of 76 employees who are citizens of those countries and hold a U.S. temporary work visa.
“As we have in other instances and in other countries, we’re committed as a company to working with all of our employees and their families,” Smith said. “We’ll make sure that we do everything we can to provide fast and effective legal advice and assistance.”
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He said the company had reached out to each of those employees, but added there may be others with permanent-resident status, or green cards, who could be banned from re-entering the U.S. under the new policy.
The software giant’s U.S. workforce is heavily dependent on immigrants and guest workers. Microsoft employed 120,000 people at the end of 2016, including about 71,000 in the U.S. Of those, 45,400 worked in Washington state, primarily in Redmond and Bellevue.
In a quarterly filing this week, Microsoft said changes to U.S. immigration policy that restrict the flow of people “may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts.” That language didn’t appear in the company’s prior filings.
Microsoft, Smith said, believes in a “strong and balanced high-skilled immigration system,” and supports efforts to ease barriers to immigration, including the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which defers deportation for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
That policy faces an uncertain future under Trump, who has called for mass deportations and for reform of the guest-worker programs that Microsoft and other software companies rely on.
“We believe that immigration laws can and should protect the public without sacrificing people’s freedom of expression or religion,” Smith said.
Trump is expected to soon take action on visa programs for foreign workers.
A draft of a proposed executive order on the matter was leaked this week. While it is not clear how the final order will look and the draft contains some changes many in the technology industry support, some language alarmed people in the industry.
The draft proposed a regulation to “restore the integrity of employment-based nonimmigrant worker programs” and to consider options for modifying the H-1B skilled guest worker program to “ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest.”
Peter Lee, a Microsoft executive who oversees one of the company’s research units in Redmond, weighed in on Twitter Saturday on the impact of the ban to the immigration-dependent technology industry.
When Lee ran the computer-science department at Carnegie Mellon University, he said, “We had more high-quality Ph.D grad applications and admissions from Iran than from France.”
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, a U.S. citizen who was born in India, also defended immigration.
“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” Nadella wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”
Amazon not commenting
Other tech companies said in internal memos or public statements that they, too, were helping employees who may have been impacted by the ban. Some, such as Netflix and Apple, rebuked the policy. Amazon, which employs a substantial number of foreign-born techies in the Seattle area, did not respond to requests for comment.