By the Blouin News Technology staff

Tech leaders weigh in on U.S. immigration reform

by in Media Tech.

Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer arrives at the White House on November 28, 2012. Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

The U.S. hub of technological innovation, Silicon Valley, has officially put in its two cents on immigration reform: Tech execs want to be able to hire the best engineers and developers, and if they’re overseas, they want a seamless visa process. Specifically, they want legislation that would make H-1B high-skilled visas less expensive and complicated to obtain for workers with the best skills in technology innovation.

To make this (admittedly self-interested) political desire clear to Washington, a group of tech leaders and public figures have coalesced to form The March for Innovation, whose supporters include New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg and CEO of AOL Steve Case. The “virtual march” begins February 25, with a big ramp-up of the digital firepower that these leaders can muster, mostly in the form of social media.

This is not the first time in recent memory that the tech industry has sought to sway U.S. policy on a sensitive, high-profile issue. January 18 marked the one-year anniversary of what has become known as “Black Wednesday”, a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) – bills meant to protect copyright but which many saw as infringing First Amendment protections. Global sites like Google and Wikipedia blacked out their homepages to raise awareness of — and muster public sentiment against — the legislation (which was eventually dropped). Tech leaders undoubtedly seek to have a similar impact this time around.

This movement towards broad immigration reform is also not a new one to the leading voices in tech. The Silicon Valley Alliance for Immigration Reform (SVAIR) has been using a Facebook page since January 2008 to promote the broadening of legislation to make it easier for entrepreneurs to bring on talent from outside U.S. borders.

Whether or not this digital March will have its desired outcome is impossible to predict — visa reform is a far less charismatic issue for the general public than the threat of having the always-on spigot of their free media downloads turned off.  And should the March for Innovation achieve its objective, it will leave the larger and far more controversial questions of U.S. immigration policy untouched. Its success would prove that the high-powered minds behind the move are savvy about triangulating as well: with the March, they’ll earn a lot of cred among progressive cognoscenti without alienating the mass audiences they depend on for their revenues.