Silicon Valley’s Immigration Reckoning Is Nigh

November 29, 2016, 2:29 PM UTC

Shortly after our tumultuous election I noted that Silicon Valley won’t be pleased with the next U.S. president, in part because of his protectionist and otherwise anti-immigrant pronouncements. Access to H1-B visas for highly skilled workers is an assumed right in the heart of the information technology industry.

I promptly received an email from a Data Sheet reader claiming the visa designation is nothing of the sort. It is just another way for U.S. corporations to hire cheaper workers—in this case highly credentialed workers from poorer countries—in order to lower their costs and boost earnings. Companies need to maximize profits, of course. But that doesn’t make their exploitation of what The New York Times last year called immigration-law loopholes any more palatable.

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Fortune’s technology newsletter, where this essay originated.

A reckoning already is in motion. Reuters reports that Indian outsourcing firms, which for years have sent temporary workers to the U.S. to fill short-term needs, have begun focusing on U.S. campus recruiting as well as making acquisitions. The article notes that hiring the outsourcers for their “cheaper IT and software solutions” is an established practice in Silicon Valley. Again, just because it is established doesn’t mean local job seekers, also known as voters, will like it.

Tech will be a small but important part of this debate. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, The Wall Street Journal ran an article about a Dallas roofing contractor who can’t find enough qualified Mexican laborers. Tellingly, he pays $20 an hour for a roofer. In New York, a state where unions hold sway, the prevailing wage for a roofer is $70.37. Clearly, when a contractor in Texas says he can’t find enough roofers to complete his job, what he really means is that he can’t find enough laborers to profitably complete the job at the price for which he bid the project.

As a grandson of immigrants, I am fiercely pro-immigration. And I deplore Donald Trump’s vile and hateful tone toward immigrants in his campaign. And yet, the country is tackling this complicated topic now because of him. Things are going to get more complicated still come Jan. 20th.

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