Trump softens stand on immigration, says will fix high-tech skilled inflow

US President Donald Trump speaks as he is seated between Tim Cook, CEO, Apple and Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, during an American Technology Council roundtable in the White House

WASHINGTON: No one turned up their nose and everyone was all ears. US President Donald Trump and top tech titans from Silicon Valley engaged in a spirit of constructive cooperation on Monday despite deep misgivings, a meeting that appeared to result, among other things, in a softening of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on work visas.


  • Trump attended an American Technology Council roundtable in the White House
  • He responded positively to complaints from IT companies that his position on visa and immigration issues was adversely affecting their staffing

Calling them ‘special people’ who are at the ‘absolute cutting edge of innovation,’ Trump pledged to work ‘very diligently with everybody, including Congress, on immigration so that you can get the people you want in your companies.’

The meeting, helmed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s almost solitary support from Silicon Valley, the billionaire investor Peter Thiel, had listed the H-1B visa issue for discussion. White House spokesman Sean Spicer had said the President ‘is going into this meeting to listen’ – and evidently he did.

“It’s been a tremendous problem that you’ve had over the past long period of time. So we’re working very hard on that and we’ll be able to solve that problem,” Trump promised, casting what New Delhi insists is purely a trade and commerce matter as an immigration issue.

The question posed in a briefing document for attendees to the meeting was “How can the H1-B visa program be modified to ensure that visas are issued to the highest-skilled and highest-paid workers, while also eliminating examples of the program’s abuse?”

Still, it was the first time Trump had responded directly and positively to complaints from Silicon Valley that his position on visa and immigration issues was adversely affecting their staffing+ .

Tech titans+ such as Bill Gates have argued that skilled foreign guest workers, particularly those who come to the US via academia for their masters and Ph.D, ought to have a Green Card stapled to their degrees, instead of being made to jump through the hoops to remain in America.

Three Indian-American CEOs – Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Mastercard’s Ajay Banga, and Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen – were among the 18 executives who attended the day-long meeting at the White House, a follow-up of Trump’s initial outreach to Silicon Valley soon after he was elected last November. Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who also owns Washington Post, a fierce Trump critic), IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich were among those who attended.

Ties between the mostly liberal, Democrat-leaning Silicon Valley and Trump have been cool over issues such as climate change+ , work visas, and immigration among other things. In fact, Trump has not been to California after he was elected on the strength of electoral votes in the Red Republican states in the middle of the country; Sunny California, as it had done since the Reagan era, voted overwhelmingly Democratic and remains a world away from coal-fired Middle America.

Following the rise of the nationalist, nativist forces in the White House, led by Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon (who once critiqued the large number of Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley companies), tech luminaries have moved away even more from the Trump dispensation. Monday’s meeting had no representation from Facebook (which cited scheduling conflict for the absence of its honcho Mark Zuckerberg+ ) and Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk stepped down from Trump’s tech advisory panel earlier this month after the administration’s controversial decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

Typical of Trump, he twitted the tech titans even as he praised them, pointing out that he had created more wealth (through a stock market boom since he became President) than their combined value.

“We have approximately $3.5 trillion of market value in this room- but that’s almost the exact number that we’ve created since my election. In fact, I think we have you beat by a little bit, which is a pretty good number,” he joked.