Pledges to tighten visa policies worry Hawaii tech firms

Pledges to tighten visa policies worry Hawaii tech firms

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Raviraz Pare has a master's degree from Stanford University.

At Oceanit, the design thinking strategist uses his high-tech skills to simplify complicated projects.

But these days, he's worried about whether he'll be able to remain in Hawaii to do the job he loves.

Pare, who is from India, is one of scores of foreign nationals in Hawaii on special work visas. Many are on pins and needles over President Donald Trump's pledged immigration restrictions.

"It's a dangerous thing, in terms of stability of work. What will happen?" Pare said.

Trump has pledged to toughen immigration and visa policies, arguing the changes are needed to bolster security and job growth.

But his political opponents have pledged to fight back.

The battle getting the most attention recently is the president's controversial travel ban, which has been put on hold by a federal judge. The executive order blocks immigrants and refugees from traveling to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations.

The order blocks travel to visa holders and refugees from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Hawaii is among the states challenging the ban; a hearing on the order is slated for Tuesday.

What's unclear is how (or whether) Trump will make changes to a wide range of visas, including H-1B visas, a popular choice for high-skilled foreign workers vying to secure jobs in the tech industry.

A draft proposal from the Trump administration seeks to make the H-1B visa program more "efficient," according to a CNN report.

Meanwhile, the White House is standing by it immigration policy changes — and controversial travel ban.

"He has broad discretion to do what is in the nation's best interest to protect our people and we feel very confident that we will prevail in this matter," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.

But American technology and bio-tech companies worry the travel ban is just the start, and warn the nation's ability to compete internationally will be crippled if an immigration order bars or limits highly-qualified foreigners from working in the United States.

The tech industry thrives on diversity, Oceanit CEO Patrick Sullivan said. Fifteen of the company's employees are on work visas.

"You can't be a security risk. If we think for a second there is, that's a problem. But that's not the people we're talking to," he said.

Pare's work visa expires in a few months, and he's planning to apply for another one.

"I don't know how it will turn out," he said. "I think that part is actually the fearful thing."

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