Is there a silver lining to this controversial cloud?
Donald Trump has been very busy during his first two weeks running the United States of America. He has, among many other things: hung up on the prime minister of Australia mid-conversation; threatened to send troops into Chicago — and Mexico; opened an investigation into voter fraud in an election he won; has consistently told anyone who will listen how dishonest the media are; and even got into a spat with Arnold Schwarzenegger over ratings on the TV show The Apprentice.
But beyond all of this, the one thing which has caused the most controversy has been signing an executive order which stops all refugee travel to the US for 120 days and bans all entry from citizens of from seven specific countries — which Trump and his administration deem “Muslim majority countries.”
It has caused waves of protest — both in the U.S. and abroad — and it has been widely criticised by business leaders from all industries and politicians on both sides of the political divide.
For Ireland though, this ban, and expected new orders revamping America’s visa programs, could be a huge boon — here's why.
In the U.S. one of the most vocal groups in the last week has been the tech industry, with almost all CEOs of big Silicon Valley companies coming out publicly to decry Trump’s refugee ban.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was “concerned about the impact” of the executive order; Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company “believes deeply in the importance of immigration”; Google CEO Sundar Pichai said “it is painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues”; Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella added “here is no place for bias or bigotry in any society”; and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who recently opened a new office in Dublin, called Trump’s order “gratuitously evil.”
The reasons the tech industry is up in arms are two-fold. The first is that the travel ban currently in place means some of the company’s own staff members are under threat, which is always likely to irk those in charge, especially when many of them are immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Secondly, and more importantly in the long term, Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon are reportedly planning to overhaul how the H-1B visa system works. The program allows companies to hire overseas workers to fill highly technical roles which cannot be filled by American workers. The program allows Silicon Valley to fill jobs that would otherwise remain vacant and as GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving points out, clamping down on the H-1B visa program, “won’t help domestic job seekers and could cripple the US tech industry—that’s clearly not good for America.”
Trump is also expected to to kill the International Entrepreneur Rule, a program designed to entice startup founders to relocate to the US and grow their companies there rather than elsewhere.
While Silicon Valley may be gnashing their teeth at the prospect of such restrictions being put in place, it presents an opportunity for the rest of the world — and for Ireland in particular.
Ireland already has the distinct advantage over other countries vying to become the new home of highly skilled and innovate programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs which the U.S. is quickly making clear it doesn’t want.
Ireland is home to Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon and dozens more major tech companies big and small, and while the prevailing belief is that those companies are in Ireland simply because of the country’s low corporate tax rate — and it certainly doesn’t hurt — there are many more reasons why Ireland is an attractive destination for high tech companies.
Ireland is a gateway to the European Union and its 500 million consumers. With the U.K. in the process of leaving, Ireland is now the only English-speaking country with access to that market. Unable to hire the people they want in the U.S., Silicon Valley companies could look to expand their global footprint and with bases already established in Ireland, we could see the likes of Facebook, Google and Apple put more focus on research and development and engineering here in the future.
Ireland is already looking to court London-based fintech startups uncertain of their future post Brexit, and by providing the right support and welcoming environment here, the government could take advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. immigration and visa policy at the moment, and help position Ireland as a hub of innovation.
One Irish company, Intercom, is already looking to help bring those fearful of their future in the US, to Ireland. The company has pledged $250,000 to help pay the legal fees of people who want out of the U.S. and move to Dublin, where many of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies have outposts.
Addressing the administration in a blog post, Intercom’s CEO Eoghan McCabe said: “I believe you know you need immigrants. It’s clear where so many of the people behind the most successful tech companies here come from. And I believe you know you need tech companies. Tech is innovation, and innovation drives wealth creation in your biggest companies.”