Skip to Main Content
by Phil Stott | February 07, 2017


You may have heard that there's been something of a kerfuffle over an Executive Order that attempted to place a temporary ban on immigrants from 7 countries. You may also have heard that a number of Silicon Valley firms—over 100 at last count, including giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter—have filed a brief in opposition to the ban.

While there are many strands to the tech community's objections to the ban, an article in the Atlantic points out that the brief "notably highlights the myriad difficulties that the executive order imposes on business operations." Among them: increased difficulty and expense for hiring and retaining "the world's best employees"; disruption to business operations; and threats to tech firms' "ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States."

For a sense of just how much businesses in Silicon Valley depend on foreign talent, consider the following chart from Statista, which details the number of STEM graduates (aka the people with the exact skills that are needed in the tech startup capital of the world):

Statista STEM grads 2016

Note that only one of the countries on that list—Iran—is among the list of countries named in the executive order. But that's not the important thing about the chart: it's the numbers. As you can see, the US graduated some 568,000 people with STEM skills in 2016. And that's across all the STEM fields, from computer scientists and software developers (which the tech industry definitely needs) to agricultural and food scientists (who probably won't be going directly from college to a Palo Alto hackathon).

Meanwhile, a 2015 report for the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, while some STEM categories had an oversupply of candidates—tenure-track positions at Universities, for example—interviews with recruiters found that software development skills were the "most in demand" with employers. Those positions were expected to increase by 186,600 between 2014 and 2024.

With that in mind, it’s easy to connect the above chart to the business concerns* of tech company leaders: any move that makes foreign talent less likely to pursue a life in the US—including fears of their country being targeted in a future order, or an impending change to H-1B regulations—makes for a shallower talent pool from which those leaders can draw. Of course, that comes with a silver lining for US tech sector employees: they're likely to see their salaries increase as employers become ever more competitive in their hiring practices. Assuming, of course, that those employers don't just decide to set up shop elsewhere.

*Please note, I'm not saying that tech leaders' stated concerns related to humanitarian and diversity issues aren't real--I believe that they are (and share many of them personally). However, there are also aspects of this issue that could potentially directly affect employment in this field that I believe also deserve to be highlighted.