Silicon Valley leaders slam 'discriminatory' travel laws in letter to Congress
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
In the shadow of the very public Apple-FBI fight over encryption, tech titans have been coming together to lend a voice to another issue: discriminatory travel restrictions.
In an open letter published today, more than 30 industry leaders, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Mark Cuban, and venture capitalist Michael Moritz, voiced their disagreement with a law passed in late December.
Under the Visa Waiver program, the US used to allow travelers from 38 countries, largely in Europe, to visit the United States for a short period without needing a visa. This allowed employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google or Facebook from other countries to freely visit their headquarters. Customers looking to buy American tech products could easily fly to the US for a demo, argues Ali Partovi, a noted angel investor and one of the supporters of the letter.
These travel freedoms was cut short in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and was intended to block European jihadists from coming to the US.
But Silicon Valley leaders believe the new law goes too far.
"In the balancing act between fighting terrorism and upholding American liberties, these provisions go too far," the group wrote.
In the balancing act between fighting terrorism and upholding American liberties, these provisions go too far.
The amended law bars people who traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan in the last five years to enter without a visa. Most controversially, those who are dual citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan are also forbidden from entering the country without documentation.
This becomes especially tricky given the countries' views on what qualifies as a citizen. Iran, for example, counts children of male Iranian nationals, regardless of their place of birth, and their spouses as citizens of the country, according to a UNICEF report. British citizens of Iranian heritage who have never set foot in the country would have to apply for a visa just because of their birth parents, Partovi explained.
"Discriminating based on national heritage is inconsistent with American values. In effect, certain provisions of the new law require visas for Europeans and other citizens with Iranian, Sudanese, Syrian, or Iraqi heritage," the group wrote. "We protest this just as vigorously as if Congress had mandated special travel papers for citizens based on their faith or the color of their skin."
Business leaders are also concerned about the economic impact.
Some tech employees and customers have already been blocked from entering the country because they didn't realize their parents' nationality played a role in their travel plans, Partovi told Business Insider.
"Restricting travel handicaps American companies from being as competitive they want to be in the international marketplace," Partovi said.
Beyond just voicing concerns, the Silicon Valley heavyweights are also throwing their power (and in some cases, likely money and influence) behind the Equal Protection in Travel Act (H.R.4380/S.2499) that would remove the restrictive dual nationality clause. The group released its letter Tuesday on a Change.Org to gain signatures for a petition as a show of support.
A new bipartisan bill introduced in January would eliminate the dual nationality clause, but would not lift the restrictions on those who traveled to other countries.
Here's the full letter and list of supporters:
Discriminatory travel restrictions: bad for business and for America
In December, the United States enacted a law that ends visa-free travel for individuals based on their Middle Eastern or African heritage. While the law contains other important measures to enhance national security, we urge Congress to undo the discriminatory provisions: they are harmful to the economy and to America.
Until now, citizens of the U.S., Europe, Japan, South Korea and others (38 countries in total) enjoyed a reciprocal arrangement to travel visa-free. The new law ends this right for travelers to the U.S. based on discriminatory criteria. This invites reciprocal measures similarly restricting U.S. citizens traveling to Europe and the other countries, potentially weakening the power of the U.S. passport for millions of U.S. citizens.
Discriminating based on national heritage is inconsistent with American values. In effect, certain provisions of the new law require visas for Europeans and other citizens with Iranian, Sudanese, Syrian, or Iraqi heritage. We protest this just as vigorously as if Congress had mandated special travel papers for citizens based on their faith or the color of their skin. In the balancing act between fighting terrorism and upholding American liberties, these provisions go too far.
These restrictions also harm U.S. business interests. Millions of European, Japanese, and Korean citizens travel as employees, customers, and suppliers of American firms. Requiring many of them to get visas imposes bureaucratic delays on U.S. firms. This reduces the agility and liberty of U.S. firms, makes us less competitive in the global economy, and will ultimately cost jobs.
We support the bipartisan Equal Protection in Travel Act (H.R.4380/S.2499), which mitigates these problems. We encourage Congress to enhance security via technology leadership and international cooperation without creating barriers that isolate us from our global partners.
Scott Banister, Co-founder, Ironport; Investor, Paypal, Uber
Rich Barton, Chairman, Zillow & Glassdoor
Gina Bianchini, Co-founder & CEO, Mightybell, Ning
Joanne Bradford, COO, SoFi
Ed Catmull, President, Pixar, Disney Animation Studios
Ron Conway, Founder, SV Angel
Mark Cuban, Owner, Dallas Mavericks, Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres
Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter, Square
Arash Ferdowsi, Co-founder & CTO, Dropbox
David Friedberg, Founder, Climate Corp, Metromile, Eatsa
Adriana Gascoigne, CEO & Founder, Girls In Tech
Paul Graham, Co-founder, Y Combinator
Drew Houston, CEO, Dropbox
Leila Janah, Founder & CEO, Sama
Omid Kordestani, Chairman, Twitter; Former Chief Business Officer, Google
Aileen Lee, Founder, Cowboy Ventures
Max Levchin, Co-founder, Paypal, Yelp, Affirm
Joe Lonsdale, Co-founder, Palantir, Eight Partners
Mohsen Moazami, Founder & MD, Columbus Nova Technology Partners
Hamid Moghadam, Chairman & CEO, Prologis
Michael Moritz, Chairman, Sequoia Capital
Kimball Musk, Co-founder, The Kitchen
Pejman Nozad, Founder, Pejman Mar Ventures
Ali Partovi, Co-founder, LinkExchange, iLike, Code.org
Mark Pincus, CEO & Founder, Zynga
Vipul Ved Prakash, Founder, Topsy, Cloudmark
Hooman Radfar, Partner, Expa; Founder, AddThis
Ali Rowghani, Partner, YCombinator; Former COO, Twitter; CFO, Pixar
Kevin Ryan, Founder, Business Insider, Gilt, MongoDB
Lawdan Shojaee, CEO, Axosoft
Ben Silbermann, CEO, Pinterest
Jeff Skoll, CEO, Participant Media; Former President, EBay
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