US President Donald Trump has closed the borders for temporary workers, potentially stemming the flow of IT workers into the United States.
The executive order – signed last week – suspends entry to the US for people on temporary work visas until December 31.
Trump signed the order under the guise of protecting jobs for US nationals.
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” Trump said in his proclamation.
“Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain non-immigrant visa programs authorising such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
The suspension of temporary visas is poised to hit the US technology sector which is a major user of the H-1B work visa.
IT consultancy firms Tata, Cognizant, and Infosys are among the biggest sponsors for temporary visas, accounting for nearly 40,000 H-1B visas in the 2018 fiscal year.
Silicon Valley has lashed out against the Trump decision as tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and IBM each import thousands of technically-skilled employees to the US each year.
CEO of Alphabet and Google, Sundar Pichai, said immigration had “contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today”.
Pichai grew up in Chennai before earning a scholarship to Stanford University. He started work at Google in 2004.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, echoed Pichai’s disappointment in the ban, tweeting that the US was a “nation of immigrants” which “has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream”.
Microsoft president, Brad Smith, said the visa ban would create unnecessary “uncertainty and anxiety”.
“Immigrants play a vital role at our company and support our country’s critical infrastructure They are contributing to this country at a time when we need them most.”
That anxiety and fear has been felt by non-American tech workers like Ana from India who spoke with The Verge pseudonymously about what the travel ban might mean for her visa status.
“It makes me so angry that I don’t have a right to defend the career I built,” Ana said.
“This is tearing families apart as much as any natural disaster, except that there are people in power who are making it happen and have the power to stop it.”
The need for skilled migrants is ongoing for technology companies in the US and Australia alike.
ACS’ Digital Pulse 2019 report noted that Australia will need another 100,000 technology workers by 2024.
Unfortunately, that gap is unlikely to be filled entirely through local education, as the same report notes a decline in the number of IT-related university enrolments in recent years.
CEO of Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes, said in a recent interview with Sky News that importing tech talent is necessary while the country develops better IT education outcomes.
“We for sure have a massive shortage of skills,” Cannon-Brookes said, adding that the range of skills needed to create a piece of technology – not just programming and engineering – are lacking in Australia.
“We’ve long advocated [that] there’s only really two solutions there,” he said.
“One is a very liberal immigration policy when it comes to tech talent.
“We should be importing that talent in the short term because we can’t change the short term equation.
“In the long term it has to come down to education – primary, secondary, university. Those two things work together.”
ACS President, Ian Oppermann, said there should be a greater focus on developing IT skills in Australia.
“My own view about keeping skills in Australia is first of all we should put more time and effort into growing those skills,” he said.
“But ultimately we have quite a large gap.”