Microsoft asks Trump administration for exception from immigration ban

February 5, 2017

By Stephen Nellis, Globe and Mail |

Microsoft Corp. is asking U.S. officials to grant exceptions for law-abiding, visa-holding workers and students from President Donald Trump’s immigration order, channelling the outrage expressed by many in the technology industry with a proposed solution.

Such individuals are low-risk – having already undergone a rigorous vetting process – and face immediate hardship as a result of last week’s order, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said in a letter Thursday to the secretaries of State and Homeland Security. Mr. Smith said he believes the two officials are empowered to take the necessary steps to allow certain people entry into the country. The exemptions sought would cover workers with visas sponsored by U.S.-based companies and students with ones obtained via a U.S.-based school.

“We believe such an exception under the existing framework of the Executive Order would help address compelling personal needs without compromising the Executive Order’s security-related objectives,” Mr. Smith wrote in the letter and a related blog post.

The U.S. technology industry responded immediately and with outrage to last Friday’s action from the new President, who set a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as well as a 120-day halt on all refugees. Leaders of most of the industry’s biggest companies publicly decried the move, as did executives from other industries and human rights organizations, and many recounted tales of immigrant success in the United States.

Microsoft is one of the first companies to publicly write to the government with a specific proposal, one it says is “not only consistent with the Executive Order, but was contemplated by it.”

Microsoft argues that, because these workers and students are well-known to their companies, schools and communities and have been thoroughly scrutinized in order to receive their visas, they represent a lower security risk. Some are also facing immediate, and in some cases significant, hardship under the current order, the company said.

Microsoft has an employee who is stranded outside the U.S. while the person’s children are here, and another who cannot leave the U.S. to visit a critically ill parent, Mr. Smith said in the letter. The company said it has 76 employees who, together with their 41 dependents, have non-immigrant visas to live and work in the U.S. and are affected by the executive order.

Mr. Smith pointed out that the proposed solution doesn’t replace broader discussion of the immigration orders.

“At the outset, we recognize that this proposal will not and should not end the broader debate and deliberations regarding last week’s executive order. Our company is one among many that has expressed its views, and we will continue to participate energetically and constructively in the public discussions that help define our democratic processes,” he wrote in the blog post.

Separately, Microsoft is among a group of companies including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., circulating an open letter to Mr. Trump expressing concern about the order and offering help to fix it and other policies, according to people familiar with the plan.

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