Top CEOs Say Trump Courts Economic Failure Through Anti-Immigration

Apple CEO Tim Cook and many other leading CEOs wrote a letter to Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, expressing concern over the administration’s immigration policies. Photo Credit: Apple

The second most powerful woman in the world grew up in Chennai, India, (formerly Madras) according to Forbes, while 400 miles away, Time Magazine’s Top 100 Leader was born in Hyderabad.

What they have in common is a simple algorithm. What made Indra Nooyi and Satya Nadella the leaders they are today is that they are both Americans. Until they arrived in the United States, they had good futures, but it takes a country to create a great future.

This is no anthem to patriotism or ringing the bells of liberty. It is a data based analysis that a combination of talent, risk-taking, capital availability, and reasonable regulation turns on the great engine of capitalism. Let’s add, the same engine powers innovation does the same for charitable giving.

President Trump’s administration has chosen to throw sand into the engine of the H-1B visa program, which is the same ship that brought Nadella and Nooyi here. Whether this is related to a perception of good jobs going to non-citizens or something about the border wall, the way our government is going about this will have a detrimental effect on technology and innovation.

But it is not limited to Silicon Valley.

Now, the most highly respected group of business leaders in the world has spoken up in a letter to Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security. The letter says, “on behalf of the CEO members of Business Roundtable, we write to express our serious concern about changes in immigration policy that are causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations.”

The ‘’A” list of chief executives, including Coca Cola’s James Quincy, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, signed the letter.

They have four main beefs: “inconsistent immigration decisions,” which means a government adjudicator can disagree with prior approvals; also, “uncertainty about required information” meaning an application may be approved one month but may not be approved when the visa holder tries to extend status later on; then there is ‘revoked status for spouses,” which is a backdoor for denying entry by refusing to allow the spouse to work; finally, “commencement of removal proceedings,” sounding like something out of George Orwell, means any time legal status is not extended, employees face removal proceedings even if they plan to depart the country.

The CEOs make the point that this behavior increases the chance that a ‘long-term employee, who has followed the rules…will lose his or her status.” The people who signed this letter aren’t the ranting type. They are the most conscientious business leaders in the world.

The spread of anti-immigrant concern could affect customers as well. International sales are at risk if international markets conclude America has become belligerently anti-immigrant. Then there is also the likelihood that companies with stronger international teams will pull an old trick of ours, produce better products with former American immigrant ingenuity.

The bottom line is America is a rich country, but the one thing we can’t afford is immigration failure. The political issues have to be worked out, but while Washington grinds its way through these, the companies need to put people to work.

Are you listening, Mr. President?

Read more: Apple CEO Treads Softly During Rare Speech in China

Jeff Cunningham :Jeff Cunningham is Chief Executive magazine's editor-at-large and a professor of leadership at Arizona State University/Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he has also endowed the Cunningham Global Fellowship for next-generation leaders. He also is the founder of Thunderbird Opinions poll of business trends. He was previously publisher of Forbes Magazine and CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk). Watch his YouTube interviews at Iconic Voices and connect on Twitter @CunninghamJeff and LinkedIn.