US President-elect Donald Trump Photo: PTI
If you work in tech almost anywhere else in the world, it’s easy to see Silicon Valley as a black hole. The high salaries, prestigious companies, and “cool” factor draw foreign talent to California. And that foreign talent has been a big contributor to Silicon Valley’s success. Between 1995 and 2005, immigrants founded 52 per cent of Silicon Valley’s start-ups.
Then Donald Trump was elected, swept into office in part based on his promises to handle immigration much more strictly. Suddenly, Steve Bannon – Trump’s apparent chief strategist and a noted racist – is talking about Silicon Valley’s Asian CEOs like they’re a bad thing. Now foreign talent is wondering whether moving to the US is worth it, or whether it’s even safe.
What may prove to be a crisis for Silicon Valley is looking a lot like an opportunity for China’s tech sector. Unlike the US, China is not a nation of immigrants. But at China’s World Internet Conference last week, Baidu CEO Robin Li made the case that China’s tech sector stands to benefit from Trump’s election.
Silicon Valley really could be hurt by Trump. A lot of foreign talent gets to the Valley by way of the H-1B visa, a visa that allows American companies
to bring in foreign workers with special skills. Trump has been inconsistent on H-1B, but at times he’s threatened to gut the programme. And with his chief strategist having made comments about there being too much Asian talent in the Valley, it’s not hard at all to imagine a Trump administration that cuts off many of the avenues (like H-1B) that American firms use to bring in top foreign talents.