For months, lawmakers in Washington have pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, a sentiment recently echoed in Silicon Valley. Adding political organizer to his long list of accolades, Mark Zuckerberg has spearheaded a campaign for immigration reform called FWD.us — launching its first wave of television ads this week.
Initially reported by Politico’s Alexander Burns, the ads (posted below) have aired in six states (Texas, Florida, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa and Kentucky) and rely heavily on quotes from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Lindsey Graham, two major figures in the fight for immigration reform. The two ads are funded by a subsidiary of FWD.us called, “Americans for a Conservative Direction.”
Unlike most 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, FWD.us has created separate subsidiaries to better court Republicans and independent voters, allowing them to tailor messaging based on their audience. Outreach efforts targeting independent voters, therefore, go through a separate subsidiary called the “Council for American Job Growth.”
While this seems to be a political savvy move by newcomer Mark Zuckerberg, some conservatives are not convinced that his motives for “conservative” reform are sincere.
If it’s not a genuine interest in the country’s handling of immigration, then what is behind the sudden interest in immigration reform from Silicon Valley giants who usually stray away from the political arena?
Their talent, and consequently their livelihood, rests upon the skill sets embodied by immigrant employees. Excelling in computer, engineering, business, finance, science, and managerial occupations, these workers are the pulse of Silicon Valley.
“In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are the talented people we educate and attract to our country,” Zuckerberg reiterates, calling current policy “unfit for today’s world.”
But, it’s not just any immigration reform that Zuckerberg and the founders of LinkedIn and DropBox are pushing for. Instead, it’s the type of immigration reform that directly benefits their businesses; specifically, the expansion of the H-1B visa program to allow for the continued employment of immigrants in specialty jobs.
Currently, the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) limits the number of H-1B visas available to 65,000, awarding an additional 20,000 to applicants with a master’s degree from an American university.
In just one week, the USCIS far surpassed its quota, receiving 124,000 applications for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2014.
“Why do we kick out the more than 40% of math and science graduate students who are not US citizens after educating them,” Zuckerberg argued a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month. “These students are smart and hardworking, and they should be part of our future.”
Zuckerberg’s immigration reform, outlined on FWD.us, includes effective border security, a path to citizenship, higher accountability in schools, support for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, and investment in breakthrough discoveries in scientific research.
While his call for effective border security and simplification of the path to citizenship suggest a broader interest in immigration reform, Zuckerberg’s focus on the economy, coupled with his highly valuable stake in technology, reflects a different motivation: his employees.
Silicon Valley is highly invested in the foreign talent H-1B visa holders bring to the tech industry and tech companies consider how much they would have to pay talent if limited to American citizens. What leaders in the Valley ignore in their case for immigration reform, however, are the second types of immigrants that often work for them: undocumented workers.
A distinction pointed out by The Atlantic’s Philip Bump: “The technology industry’s relationship with the immigrants that work on lower floors in their office buildings has not always been as friendly as with H-1B professionals.” This is shown in this series of charts.
For Zuckerberg to successfully convince skeptics that he has the interest of “today’s world,” and not just “his world” in mind, he will have to prove why it’s in the best interest of America for Silicon Valley to continue to advance.
Below are the two videos that aired this week: