In what will probably go down in history as one of the most controversial first weeks of any American president’s first term, Donald Trump used his new powers to sign an executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries and putting in place a 120-day halt to refugee resettlement. In response, tech companies from both sides of the Atlantic have forcefully criticised the Donald’s latest move.
The executive order has been met with widespread protests around. Some of the more notable people opposing the ban included several republican senators, politicians like Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper, American cardinals and business leaders like Starbucks’ chief executive Howard Schultz. Several celebrities have also spoken out against the ban, including the Avengers director Joss Whedon, actors like Ashton Kutcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mahershala Ali. The American Civil Liberties Union, the nonpartisan and non-profit organisation defending individual freedoms in the US, was one of many organisations that have launched legal challenges to the ban. Over the weekend, the organisation raised over $24m in donations, which is over five times its annual budget.
Now Silicon Valley leaders have joined the protest. So far, the leaders of the San Francisco Bay area’s tech scene have at best had an uneasy relationship with the country’s new commander in-chief, with companies like Uber having faced protests after agreeing to advise the president. And now its tech community has widely criticised the order to deny refugees entry into the country. Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, the homestay network, tweeted: “Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected.” He later announced that Airbnb would provide free housing for “refugees and anyone not allowed in the US” and encouraged people who wanted to help to reach out to the company.
Other tech leaders from the US highlighted the fact that their companies were dependent on foreign talent for their survival. The tech head honchos who have expressed concern and dismay about the ban include Space X and Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, Netflix’s CEO and Facebook’s CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
And the backlash against the ban wasn’t confined to the US: Britain’s startup scene hasn’t held back either. “Anything that impedes freedom of movement of people, with all their ideas and creativity, can curb innovation and growth,” said Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech City UK, to CityA.M. “Tech companies know how important this is and that’s why they’ve been quick to react to this executive order. We will be watching these developments closely.”
The news comes just days after Theresa May visited the new American president in the US. While the pair seemed to agree on the importance of a continuation of the Anglo-American special relationship, the prime minister has since told the press that she doesn’t agree with the executive order. Her spokesperson told Reuters: “”Immigration policy in the United States is a matter for the government of the United States, just the same as immigration policy for this country should be set by our government. But we do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking. We are studying this new executive order to see what it means and what the legal effects are and in particular what the consequences are for UK nationals.”
The tech sector’s condemnation of the ban highlights just how heated the question of immigration is for startups and pundits alike. Let’s hope the leaders on both sides of the pond keep that in mind.