Donald Trump, Making Canada Great Again!

It hasn’t taken long for tech companies to react strongly against President Trump’s assault on one of their key advantages: international labor. Tech companies are dumping money into pro-immigrant funds, and challenging legal cases, even while advising their foreign-national employees to stay put in case Trump does something else rash with immigration laws.

The WSJ has a piece that suggests Canada will benefit from this, as tech companies locate their foreign national employees there to avoid dealing with Trump’s capricious immigration actions.

[P]ast issues with U.S. immigration laws pushed Microsoft to open a satellite office in Vancouver in 2007, explicitly as a place for engineers it wanted to hire but couldn’t get into the U.S. In 2009, Bill Gates held up Microsoft’s Canada office as an example of how limits on the number of H-1B visas in the U.S. threatened America’s pre-eminence in tech.

A spokesman for Microsoft says that, while immigration laws haven’t been a primary driver of the company’s investment in Canada, they’ve certainly been a contributing factor.

Microsoft is hardly alone—Apple, Google, Facebook,Cisco and dozens of other large U.S. tech companies have established offices in Canada for the same reason they build them all over the world: Tech talent is so valuable that when companies aren’t able to get it to come to them, the companies will go to the talent.

Admittedly, this is, thus far, corporate posturing, an attempt to fearmonger back at Trump.

But it is posturing I’d love to see a lot more of. I have said repeatedly that, in addition to all the other responses to Trump’s attack on immigrants, Tim Cook or — even better — Sergey Brin should make a very public real estate shopping trip to Ireland.

As the spouse of an Irishman, I’m admittedly biased (even while I recognize the tech companies are only in Ireland because, in addition to being English speaking, it is also a tax haven). I wouldn’t mind seeing Ireland benefit if the US had to lose.

But threatening to move key facilities, or even headquarters, to Ireland would have another benefit, even over threatening Canada. Because it is in and undoubtedly will remain in the EU, location in Ireland would serve as a lily pad that would make compliance with EU data protection laws far easier (though the tech companies would have to get better at protecting their users’ data, which would also be welcome).

More importantly, unlike Canada, Ireland is not part of the Five Eyes data sharing agreement. If the tech companies were to move outside of the Five Eyes — and therefore outside the realm where US spies can access the content of much of the world with a few keystrokes — it would undercut the power that Trump will almost assuredly abuse.

It may take more to cause tech companies to really respond: they’ll surely be happy with Trump’s assault on regulations. But they do have leverage over Trump that is meaningful.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    It may take more to cause tech companies to really respond: they’ll surely be happy with Trump’s assault on regulations. But they do have leverage over Trump that is meaningful.

    I wonder what will happen the first time a tech company questions a data request from the Trump administration, let alone refuses to go along. Actually, I don’t wonder much — Trump will publicly say or tweet something nasty about Company X supporting terrorists.

    Yes, if I were heading a tech company, I’d be looking at places like Ireland too.

    On the other hand, with Brexit scrambling the relationships between Ireland and Northern Ireland, especially the questions of whether there will there be a hard border, there are various unknowns on the Emerald Isle that might give me pause until they get sorted out. One wild scenario: Brexit causes Northern Ireland to depart the UK to stay in the EU with their Irish cousins to the south in a reunified Ireland.

    • jerryy says:

      That could come up rather quickly. There is that ongoing dispute the US government is having with Microsoft about email data being stored on servers located in Ireland.

  2. Bardi says:

    If I had a tech company and was nervous about the US immigration policies, I would consider moving to Mexico or Canada and operate any actual manufacturing out of countries not associated with Trump’s silly and easily outmaneuvered “rules”. I would also consider advertising how Trump’s policies lead to job losses.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Welcome back.  As you said, if the presidency has a power, the Donald will almost surely abuse it.  At the same time, he has manic variations in his awareness, intelligence and attention span.  That leaves power vacuums in his wake that are much like the dust clouds that Peanuts’ Pig Pen left in his.

    Mr. Bannon will be happy to fill those and already has.  His priorities and style seem straight out of the Middle Ages, as if he were a modern-day Bernardo Gui out to remove Albigensians from cultural memory.  We are all Cathars now.

    On a separate note, any development that encourages greater application of European-style data protection standards would be heartily welcome.

  4. Ian Welsh says:

    We also expect to get a LOT of convention biz. I expect to be seeing a lot of my American and other foreign friends, given there are really only 4 cities you’d want to hold a conference in in Canada, and I live in the largest.

  5. SpaceLifeForm says:

    So which tech company would benefit from:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/02/02/us-eases-some-economic-sanctions-against-russia/97399136/

    Or just #fakenews ?

    The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday eased some economic sanctions against Russia, specifically licensing cyber-security sales to the Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, according to official documents.

    The license, listed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department, covers “all transactions and activities” involving the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, that were prohibited by earlier executive orders.

  6. lefty665 says:

    It has seemed to some of us in the tech sector that the primary purpose and effect of H-1B visas was to suppress technical wages in the U.S. That’s people like EEs and programmers. Much of Trump’s immigration “policy” so far stinks, but a reduction in the number of H-1B visas is cause for celebration among tech workers.

      • lefty665 says:

        My pleasure John. About a decade ago Microsoft, Apple and another half dozen of the tech biggies were busted for a long standing conspiracy to restrain tech wages. They had agreed NOT to compete for tech talent by paying more for it.

        Gates self serving crap about operating in Canada because of the availability of skilled workers was part of an ultimately successful campaign to get the Government to increase the number of H-1B visas. That enabled the tech companies to legally restrain wages by hiring more of what amounts to indentured servants on the cheap. Scabs by another name are still scabs.

  7. der says:

    Speaking about Trump’s turbulent first two weeks in office, Murkowski said there are “a lot of bumpy spots in the road right now, a lot of things that have made many of us uncomfortable.” She cited her own “very real reservations” about Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the U.S. refugee program.

    “I cannot live in fear of a tweet,” Murkowski said, laughing. “We as lawmakers should not. What we need to be doing is working for the people that we represent, trying to do best by our states and their people, and doing so in working with a new administration.”

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/sen-murkowski-on-defying-trump-i-cannot-live-in-fear-of-a-tweet-193230535.html

    .

    A Republican Senator standing up to Herr Leader. Grow a pair Schumer.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Oh, Mr. Schumer has a pair, thanks very much. It’s just that his priorities are those of Goldman Sachs and its peers. His concerns are not those of the people of New York, but those of New York city’s biggest financial institutions. Everyone else, in his view, can wait for Godot.

  9. jerryy says:

    Somewhat related, somewhat off the topic; the comments for POLITICIANS DID NOT GET RICH FROM HOLLOWING OUT THE ECONOMY by Ed Walker, January 24, 2017 are closed, but Ed, you might want to take the following into consideration for the updated version you promised us:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trump-dodd-frank-friends-cant-get-loans

    “President Donald Trump was blunt Friday morning when he told a roundtable of business leaders why his administration was committed to hollowing out some financial regulations in Dodd-Frank: His friends can’t get loans.” (emphasis mine)

    It sounds like the politicians are getting ready to get rich by doing some more hollowing.

  10. fuzzylogix says:

    As someone with forty years in technology, the only reason for the move to Canada is keep open the flow of H-1B employees which drives down the cost of labor nationally. Trump said he would reduce these H-1B visas which is the correct thing to do since there is tremendous talent in this country that is going to waste.

    It is difficult to move these resources to other countries since there is always the problem with communications and control. Remember we went through this during the off-shore craze. The other option that Trump said he would employ is forcing H-1B salaries to be competitive with American salaries, then that will also reduce the import of foreign labor and force Tech companies to hire Americans. Going to Canada is not a solution. If it were, they would be there already!

    • bmaz says:

      The “only reason”??

      Uh huh. Naw, healthcare, tax structure and schools couldn’t have anything to do with it, am I right?

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