Microsoft has asked the Trump administration to set up a formal exemption process for its recent immigration ban. President and chief legal officer Brad Smith laid out the company’s request in an open letter, proposing what Microsoft calls an exemption for “responsible known travelers with pressing needs,” sponsored by a US company or university. It would allow visa holders from the seven countries affected by Trump’s ban to safely travel outside the US without fear of being denied reentry, on the understanding that they will travel for periods of less than two weeks for either business purposes or family emergencies.
Smith says that Microsoft’s request shouldn’t be considered a fix for the executive order, which a spokesperson previously called “misguided and a fundamental step backwards.” It framed the move as an immediate way to help foreign employees who have been stranded outside the country where they live and work, as well as those who cannot leave the US for fear they won’t be allowed back in. Microsoft says it has 76 employees with 41 dependents affected by the ban, some of which have been stranded apart from their children or unable to visit sick relatives abroad.
In the face of numerous legal challenges, the White House has walked back its originally near-blanket travel ban in recent days. Currently, legal permanent residents are exempt, but people on temporary visas are not. Microsoft doesn’t appear to be proposing a broad change to that, just a process in which specific people could apply for case-by-case approvals. In addition to sponsored workers, immediate family members could also take advantage of the exception, as could students in good standing with accredited universities.
“Immigration authorities already have a wide range of personal information about individuals in the visa categories that we have proposed,” writes Smith. “Many of these individuals also fill critical roles in the organizations that employ them, whether they are doctors, scientists, engineers, medical technicians, software developers, or any number of other highly skilled professionals. They are deeply valued contributors to the innovation, research and business acumen of our nation, and they serve critical roles in the successful operations of US companies.”
This last section is key. Microsoft is one of several tech companies that’s had to deal with employees affected by the ban — Google quickly pulled staff back to the US, and Uber has promised to compensate drivers who are stuck overseas and can’t work. Unfortunately, as we’ve outlined above, employees would still have a limited ability to travel outside work. And the larger question of how the US should treat refugees and immigrants — and whether Trump’s current hard-line stance against them is constitutional — remains unanswered.