- During the COVID-19 pandemic, US President Donald Trump has tightened immigration restrictions, forcing many foreign-born tech workers to relocate.
- Immigrant community platform Homeis says that its user base has doubled since the start of the pandemic, and that in recent months there has been an increase in the “hundreds of percent” in users asking for support on visa issues.
- For tech workers, the UK is one of the most popular destinations to relocate to because of its thriving tech scene. Another popular location is Canada, because its proximity to the US and immigration-friendly reputation.
- “I think there is a long-term impact, a question of whether America will be the number one destination for skilled employees,” Homeis CEO Ran Harnevo told Business Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Darshan Shah, a software developer from India, moved to New York in March 2019 to work for startup Homeis, an online immigrant communities platform. He was joining his wife, who emigrated from India in 2015 to work for tech giant Google. Both of their visas are due to expire at the end of August. Their applications to have them renewed have been rejected — now, they must move abroad. The US will lose both their skills and their taxpayer dollars.
President Trump’s tightening of immigration restrictions is making it harder for skilled foreign-born workers to move to and live in America, potentially damaging the US tech sector. Ran Harnevo, the CEO of Homeis, which has seen its user base double during the pandemic, says skilled developers and engineers are increasingly picking both the UK and Canada over the US.
The US-based startup provides user-generated content to support immigrants with integration, and connect them with legal and financial services for visas and healthcare isses. Harnevo told Business Insider the number of users seeking support for visa-related concerns has risen by “hundreds of percent” during the coronavirus pandemic.
It follows President Donald Trump signing a new executive order in July that froze H-1B visas for foreign workers until the end of 2020, cutting off a critical flow of high-skilled immigrants for US tech companies.
“The American administration has started to build more and more obstacles in front of immigrants and they’ve been doing it since 2016,” Harnevo said. “The future of an immigrant has become much less secure, and it kind of accelerated during COVID.”
He adds that even if immigrants remain untouched by COVID-19 and visa reforms, many feel “more unwelcome.”
The most popular destinations to relocate to are Canada and the UK
For highly-skilled tech workers like Shah and his wife, the US was, originally, the obvious place to move.
“The US has a thriving tech industry and I had a prior background in tech, as a software developer with one of India’s leading software development companies,” says Shah. “The motive to come here was to explore the tech industry.”
But the recent changes to immigration policy have put a strain for a lot of the south Asian community, he says, and many are now looking to move somewhere where their future will be more certain.
Canada is one of the most popular destinations for workers relocating from the US because of its proximity and immigration-friendly stance, says Harnevo. But Europe, and in particular the UK, is also proving popular for immigrants because of its thriving tech scene.
“There were there were two clear options: either move to Canada, or to the UK,” says Shah. “The UK seemed better because of the roles that my wife could get there.”
He adds: “In the UK, on the tier-two category, we won’t have this issue of visas at least anywhere between five to nine years.”
Ongoing restrictions could threaten the dominance of US tech
The visa restrictions will have a damaging impact on the wider economy, says Shah.
“As a community, we’re slightly more affluent when it comes to immigration and the skills that we offer in this country,” says Shah.
The average annual income for Indian households in America is $100,000, according to Pew Research Center.
“If you’re earning $100,000, imagine you’re almost paying 30% of it in taxes. If you’re doing that and if a lot of immigrants are going out of the country then yes, it will impact the taxes, it will impact the economy.”
For the country’s tech scene, which is heavily reliant on foreign-born talent, the negative impact could be even more severe, says Harnevo.
“More than 50% of STEM employees in Silicon Valley are foreign born. In New York it’s 46%,” he says. “More than 50% of the founders of the unicorns in the US right now are foreign born.”
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Without a loosening of restrictions, the policy could threaten the dominance of US tech, he adds.
“I think there is a long-term impact, a question of whether America will be the number one destination for skilled employees.”
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