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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pressed Trump on H-1B visas at tech summit

world Updated: Dec 17, 2016 12:18 IST
Yashwant Raj
Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella enters Trump Tower ahead of a meeting of technology leaders with president-elect Donald Trump.(Reuters Photo)

The issue of H-1B visas did come up at the President-elect Donald Trump’s Tech Summit earlier this week, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stressing its importance in bringing and retaining talent. Trump listened, but made no promises.

The Trump transition team had issued a statement after the meeting, but gave no details, except that the President-elect and the tech leaders discussed job creation. It made no mention of immigration, a thorny issue between him and Silicon Valley.

But a leading web publication focused on IT news, Recode quoted sources in a report saying, “Nadella pointed out that much of the company’s spending on research and development was in the US, even if 50% of the sales were elsewhere, so that immigration would benefit those here.”

To the surprise of many in the group, Trump responded favourably. “Let’s fix that,” he said, without any specifics, and went on to ask, “What can I do to make it better?”

Apple’s Tim Cook brought up STEM (science, technology engineering and math) education and so did Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, with added emphasis on the need for focussing on women and unrepresented minorities.

Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt urged Trump on upgrading governmental information-technology programmes and mentioned Trump could become the “Software President”. The President-elect misheard that as “soft” president.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with technology industry leaders at Trump Tower in New York. (AP Photo)

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos reportedly spoke about how hard it was for foreign companies to operate in China, and Tesla’s Elon Musk spoke about climate change, an issue he is passionate about, and others spoke about job creation and infrastructure spending.

Indian interest in the meeting was H-1B, a temporary work permit for skilled foreign workers used by many Indian IT companies operating in the US, such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro to bring trained hands from India for outsourced contracts.

Trump and his team have been critical of the programme so far. Although Trump concedes that H-1B has advantages and that he has used it for his businesses, he has hinted at restrictions to protect Americans from being replaced by foreigners.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, has been an outspoken critic of the programme and, as senator, introduced two legislations to reduce the annual intake from 85,000 and make it prohibitively expensive.

It wasn’t quite clear from Recode’s account of the meeting if Trump will indeed do something to bring in more talent, as Nadella, the Indian-American CEO, seemed to be making a case for. He did offer to “fix” the problem.