Amazon, Expedia tell US court Trump immigration order affects business

The attorney general of Washington has filed a lawsuit against the order amid increased public protests

Amazon and Expedia have submitted declarations in a federal court in Washington, claiming that a recent immigration order by U.S. President Donald Trump is disrupting their business and affecting employees.

The actions by these companies come amid widespread public protests against the order, with many tech companies prominently in the opposition.

The declarations were filed by Amazon and Expedia in a lawsuit in which Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has asked the court to invalidate parts of the executive order for a number of reasons including that it discriminates in the issuance of immigrant visas on the basis of race, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.

The executive order signed by Trump, which suspended for 90 days entry into the U.S. of persons from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - as immigrants and non-immigrants, has triggered protests both in the U.S. and abroad, with tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft strongly criticizing the move. The Trump administration has described the order as a move to prevent foreign terrorist entry into the U.S.

On Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and cofounder Sergey Brin addressed employees who were protesting the new regulation at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has in an email to employees reportedly promised that the full extent of Amazon’s resources are behind its employees in the U.S. and around the world who may be directly affected by the order. He also promised that the company would reach out to members of Congress to explore legislative options and also referred to the company's "declaration of support" for the lawsuit by the Washington attorney general.

The submissions by Expedia and Amazon in the lawsuit are focused on the impact of the order on their businesses and employees. A major thrust of the complaint by the state of Washington in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is that the new entry restrictions will hurt local companies like Microsoft, Expedia, Starbucks and Amazon that are dependent on skilled workers, employed on H-1B visas.

The technology industry relies heavily on the H-1B visa program, and the state ranks ninth in the U.S. by the number of applications for high-tech visas, according to the complaint. “Changes to U.S. immigration policy that restrict the flow of people may inhibit these companies' ability to adequately staff their research and development efforts and recruit talent from overseas,” it said.

It is not clear whether the executive order applies to only citizens of identified countries or anyone born in those countries irrespective of their current citizenship or visa status, wrote Ayesha Blackwell-Hawkins, senior manager of mobility and immigration at Amazon, in the declaration. It is also unclear whether the suspension applies to employees with dual citizenship in both an identified and non-identified country, Amazon added.

The uncertainty has led to situations such as where a senior lawyer of the company, who was born in Libya and has been a U.K. citizen for several years, had to be asked not to travel to the U.S. for business in February, as she ran the risk of being denied entry. Amazon is also currently assessing alternative locations outside the U.S. for seven candidates who received offers for employment with the company. These candidates were born in Iran, but are currently citizens of Germany, Canada and Australia.

Expedia, which runs travel websites, said the executive order would place restrictions on its business, increase its business costs and affect current employees and customers, besides its ability to recruit global talent. The company had 1,000 customers as of Jan 29, who hold passports issued by the listed countries, and have itineraries that involve flights either originating, terminating or transiting the U.S.

Microsoft may also testify before the court if needed, according to a news report. The company has at least 76 employees who are citizens of the seven listed countries and hold U.S. temporary work visas, and may be banned from re-entering the U.S. if they travel abroad or the company's offices in Vancouver in British Columbia, according to the attorney general’s complaint. “There may be other employees with permanent-resident status or green cards,” it added.

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John Ribeiro

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