Trump tech visa crackdown gives UAE the edge

The Trump administration's isolationist crackdown could be the UAE's gain, as the shooing-out of skilled foreign professionals comes when Dubai is stepping up its science and technology visas.

The Trump administration’s planned crackdown on visas used by the tech industry to hire talent from around the world could be catastrophic for American innovation but may give the UAE an edge in recruiting the most skilled programmers from emerging markets such as India and China, according to a leading US venture capital investor.

At the start of this month, the administration of US president Donald Trump unveiled steps to limit H-1B visas, often used by Silicon Valley recruiters, following his campaign pledge to curb immigration that takes away jobs from Americans, Agence France-Presse reported.

Chris Schroeder, the author of Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, described the move as "terrible" and "catastrophic" at a time when the United States has never faced an environment of such powerful growth and alternative opportunities in markets such as South East Asia and parts of Africa.

It will not stop Silicon Valley from maintaining its global focus, he said, but the US could lose talent to other countries with more open immigration policies, such as the UAE.

“Just at the time that we are doing this, Dubai announces new visas for anyone that wants to build great science here, [ready] with a big proverbial catcher’s mitt,” Mr Schroeder said. “[Dubai is saying] ‘if you want to test anything come test it here, if you want to have technological skill and build something, build it here.’ And I look at that dichotomy and I think one is on the right side of history and one is very much a backward focus.”

In February, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced a new entry visa system to attract talent in the fields of science, medicine, research and education. According to Mr Schroeder, for the US the worst case scenario is that “it is catastrophic for us and not the rest of the world … Start-ups in the Middle East, Africa, they still want to engage with the West, the market is huge. The exits come from there, all the knowledge, the numbers speak for themselves. But as they look out over the next five to 10 years they look at all the growth in growth markets like Africa and South East Asia and beyond and they’re saying, ‘OK, if America doesn’t want to play there are other places for us to go,’” he said.

“We should be thinking that it is an opportunity to embrace it but certain capability in America wants to look back to a time that can never be again.”

The change in the US's stance on immigration coupled with a shift in the tech industry to clients wanting more IT staff on site means Indian IT services companies will reduce their reliance on the H-1B visa, Business Standard reported last month.

The US allots 85,000 slots for this type of visa annually and on Friday the immigration service said it had reached this number after only four days of the application window being open.

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