President Trump can count on vocal opposition from Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt if he makes the H-1B visa system any worse than it already is.
Speaking at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab yesterday, the executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet said his decades-long campaign against H-1B restrictions had been “trumped” by President Trump’s travel ban on seven majority Muslim nations earlier this year.
“I spent the last 20 years announcing that the single stupidest policy in the entire American political system was the limit on H-1B visas,” Schmidt said.
“I have recently been trumped by an America where you take the highly legal and highly technical people of seven countries … and you keep them trapped at JFK so our lawyers can spring them out.”
Though the remarks were made in jest, Silicon Valley companies, including Google, offered the most vocal opposition to the travel ban.
Similarly, tech firms generally oppose further restrictions on the H-1B visa system, which offers a fast-lane for high-skilled tech workers but is capped at 65,000 new applications per year under visas that expire after three years.
Schmidt wants those restrictions lifted, but Trump’s executive order last month is likely to put the firms that use it come under closer scrutiny as part of a push for them to “buy American and hire American”.
In Schmidt’s view, limiting US firms’ selection of talent to the US would amount to a “stupid” government policy.
“A properly-run company is really about having the best people in the world,” he said. “We want the best people in the world, regardless of any form of sex, race, country, what-have-you. We want them to work for us and not our competitors. We want 100 percent market share of all those people,” he said.
“We should organize our country to be the most attractive place for those people. Stupid government policies that restrict us from giving us a fair chance of getting those people are antithetical to our mission [and] the things we serve.”
Even without the further restrictions the whole premise of the H-1B is seriously flawed, according to Schmidt. In 2013, he sarcastically described the H-1B as “a brilliant strategy”.
“Let’s get the smartest people in the world, bring them into the United States, educate them to their teeth and kick them out because we don’t want them here. They might pose a danger.”
Oddly, Trump was reportedly sympathetic to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s argument that bringing in foreign talent through programs like H-1B actually benefited the US because they supported the company’s US investments in research and development, much of which is carried out in the US. Trump reportedly asked Nadella: “What can I do to make it better?”