Trump Plan to Limit Tech Industry Visas Could Be a Boon to Israelis

Meanwhile, Trump's executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries has caused uncertainty for Israeli Arabs.

An innovation fare in Tel Aviv.
Eyal Toueg

Reports of a new initiative by U.S. President Donald Trump to limit the number of foreigners working in the U.S. high-tech industry probably won’t affect most Israeli Jews seeking to relocate to the United States, experts say. Meanwhile, the Trump's executive order banning entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries has caused uncertainty for Israeli Arabs.  

A Bloomberg News report Monday said the White House was planning an executive order overhauling the work-visa programs that technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of employees each year. If implemented, according to Bloomberg, the reforms would change how U.S. companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple recruit employees, and force major changes at Indian companies such as Infosys and Wipro.

According to the report, businesses would have to try to hire American employees first; if they recruit foreign workers, they would have to give priority to the most highly paid.

The new order comes days after Trump temporarily barred immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen - signaling the start of a wider crackdown on immigration.

“Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest,” the draft proposal reads, according to a copy reviewed by Bloomberg.

“Visa programs for foreign workers should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers – our forgotten working people – and the jobs they hold.”

Tsvi Kan-Tor, an immigration law expert at the firm Kan-Tor & Acco, said the new order might inadvertently help Israelis looking to work in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in U.S high tech. The reason is that the order is probably directed at Indian companies that make heavy use of the U.S. H1-B visa program for high-tech professionals.

The U.S. sets a quota of 65,000 H1-B visas every year, of which 10,000 to 30,000 are used by Indian software firms like Infosys and Winpro to bring in low-cost employees to the United States to work as subcontractors for American companies. 

“If Trump’s plan is to limit the number of workers from India, by reallocating part of the quota, the situation for Israeli experts paradoxically could even get better,” Kan-Tor said. “Workplaces will become available if the effect of the order is to raise salaries for workers like these. I think it’s going to be good for Israelis and Europeans. According to my estimation, [the reform] would adversely affect those who offer cheap workforce."

Uncertainty for Israeli Arabs

Kan-Tor says last week’s order regarding people from select Muslim countries is still too fresh to anticipate the impact on industry. 

“Trump threw a grenade into the room and everyone is waiting,” said Kan-Tor. “My prediction is that the rules will include additional countries in the future. There are also a lot of Muslims in India and Europe, so if the reference is to Muslim countries, there are many others in addition to the seven specified. The decision to ban admission to the country by those people shows Trump’s intentions.”

It is possible that there will be stricter entry requirements and scrutiny imposed on people with technology training, Kan-Tor added.

The ban has caused uncertainty for Israeli Arabs. Hasan Abo-Shally, who heads Hasoub, a social venture dedicated to promoting tech entrepreneurship among Israeli Arabs, said the community was worried about the effect of the Trump orders on those who want to study or work in the U.S.

“I was invited to lecture at Stanford University and I’m waiting for a visa – I’m concerned that [Trump’s] decisions are going to delay my getting it. I’ve also been thinking about getting a master’s degree in the U.S. and [Trump’s] decision is worrying me,” he said.

Aziz Kaddan, the Israeli Arab CEO of the startup Myndlift, which has offices in New York and Israel and develops alternative treatment for attention deficit disorders, said up to now his company’s employees have not experienced difficulties, but there is concern that the current limitations with be expanded in the future. “Up to now, I have never been delayed at the airport, but I am afraid that gradually they will start checking every Muslim and begin creating problems. I am happy to see people around me and corporate CEOs coming out against this policy, which is generating hatred,” he said. 

Obama legislation awaiting Trump's OK

An additional issue that has arisen following Trump’s decision is the handling of E-2 visa requests that are pending approval by the U.S. administration. In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a provision including Israel among the countries whose nationals could obtain this special visa, allowing them to come to the United States to work without showing that they had engaged in the past in commerce and without proving that they had been employed for a year. 

The visa is issued to people with special know-how, those in positions of management or trust as well as under some other circumstances. The provision should make it easier for Israeli companies, particularly startups, that up to now had not met strict criteria otherwise required, to obtain various work visas. 

Despite Trump’s latest steps, Kan-Tor noted that the chances that Obama’s decision to include Israel in the E-2 program would be reversed now are not high. “Obama signed this in 2012, in connection with legislation, not a presidential order, and repealing the law would require turning to Congress. Israeli high tech has created more jobs in the United States than all of Western Europe has, and there is appreciation for this in the United States, so I would not expect Trump to harm the E-2,” he noted. 

Officials at the Immigration and Population Authority are waiting for a response from the U.S. administration after filing the full request.