Microsoft requests Trump travel ban exception

Microsoft has requested that visa-holding workers and students be exempt from the travel ban for both business and family emergency travel requirements, saying the ban is counter-productive for US economic growth.

Microsoft has filed a formal request for an exception to President Donald Trump's ban on travel into the United States from seven countries, saying visa-holding students and workers who are "responsible known travellers with pressing needs" should be permitted to re-enter the nation under the sponsorship of US companies.

Trump's executive order -- preventing travel into the US from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya -- gave permission to the secretaries of state and homeland security to authorise exceptions to issue visas on a case-by-case basis, with Microsoft filing its request to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In the letter to Kelly and Tillerson [PDF], Microsoft's president and chief legal officer Brad Smith pointed out that the tech giant has 76 employees, and 41 associated dependents, who have non-immigrant visas allowing them to live and work in the US -- some of whom with "particularly pressing needs" to travel overseas.

"We are concerned about families that have been separated, as one or both parents were outside the United States last Friday and therefore cannot re-enter the country and are stranded away from their homes," Smith wrote.

"We are also concerned about an impacted employee inside the United States with a desperate need to visit a critically ill parent abroad. These situations almost certainly are not unique to our employees and their families. Therefore, we request that you create an exception process to address these and other responsible applications for entry into the country."

Microsoft said the classification for a responsible known traveller with pressing needs should encompass individuals who hold a valid non-immigrant work visa sponsored by a US company under E-Verify or an F-1 university student visa, as well as non-immigrant visas for the person's immediate family members; individuals who have committed no crime in the US; when leaving the US temporarily, the purpose of their travel must be for either business or for a family emergency, and should be for no longer than two weeks, with immediate family members only permitted to leave for family emergencies; and when leaving the US for business travel, it must not be to any of the seven countries named in the executive order.

"Employer-sponsored non-immigrant visa holders are known persons and have already undergone significant governmental security review. From the perspective of safety and security, a wide range of personal information is known about individuals holding non-immigrant work visas, including their occupation, place of work, place of residence, family members, state identification/driver's license information, and the existence of any criminal history," Smith argued.

"These are not people trying to avoid detection. Rather, these individuals are 'known quantities' in their communities: Their character, personalities, conduct, and behavior is well recognized and understood by their employers, colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

"These individuals fill critical roles in the organizations that employ them, whether they are doctors, scientists, engineers, medical technicians, researchers, architects, software developers, or any number of other highly skilled professionals.

"They are deeply valued contributors to the innovation, research, and business acumen of our nation, and they serve critical roles in the successful operations of US companies."

According to Microsoft, the ban is counter-productive for US economic growth, as it "creates a significant burden on US companies". For instance, having employees who are now unable to travel for business reasons has disrupted companies and been a costly exercise in terms of cancelling meetings and changing travel plans.

Smith argued that the security process for all non-immigrant visa holders is already extensive enough -- including being subject to an FBI fingerprint and name check; US VISIT's Automated Biometric Identification System fingerprint information; homeland security's Traveler Enforcement Compliance Program (TECS) name check; and National Crime Information Center information.

Non-immigrant visa applicants' biometric data is also inserted into the Consular Consolidated Database, which is linked to the Consular Lookout and Support System Database; homeland security's Automated Biometric Identification System; FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System; the National Crime Information Center data; the Terrorist Screening Center; homeland security's TECS; and homeland security's Arrival Departure Information System.

Entry to the US should also be granted to new visa holders in order to commence working at a company sponsoring them for employment under E-Verify, Microsoft said.

Microsoft's request to Kelly and Tillerson follows reports that it was working alongside tech rivals Apple, Facebook, Alphabet, and Uber on a letter opposing the travel ban.

According to a report by Recode, the draft of the letter saw the companies proclaim that "as entrepreneurs and business leaders, our ability to grow our companies and create jobs depends on the contributions of immigrants from all backgrounds."

"In a global economy, it is critical that we continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world," they reportedly wrote.

"We are committed to helping your administration identify approaches for thorough screening without a blanket suspension of admissions ... while security and vetting procedures can and should always be subject to continuous evaluation and improvement, a blanket suspension is not the right approach."

Earlier this week, Linux, Red Hat, IBM, Cloud Foundry Foundation, Canonical, and Ubuntu also opposed the immigration ban, saying that the open-source industry is reliant on the open exchange of ideas across the globe.

"Red Hat and our global economy benefit from immigration laws that both seek to protect the public and recognize that we have diverse backgrounds," Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said in a blog post.

"We are looking carefully at Friday's US executive order on immigration and how it will be implemented. From what we see so far, we are concerned that the changes are inconsistent with Red Hat's values, including diversity.

"Red Hat is strong because of the thousands of diverse voices that comprise our company. Our continued work to advance the technology industry depends greatly on our ability to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world."

Linux executive director Jim Zemlin added that the immigration restrictions are "antithetical to the values of openness and community that have enabled open source to succeed".

Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is reportedly throwing his company's support behind Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson's lawsuit against the travel ban.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has also responded to mounting pressure from widespread opposition to the immigration policy by removing himself from the Trump administration's economic advisory panel, saying his presence was "misinterpreted".

"Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that," Kalanick said.

"There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration, but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that.

"The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America.

"Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas, and there's a growing fear the US is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants."

Those remaining on the economic advisory group include Tesla CEO Elon Musk, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra.