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RSA Conference speakers tackle tech immigration reform, travel ban

Several speakers made pro-immigration remarks at RSA Conference 2017 and called for tech immigration reform following President Trump's controversial executive order.

It was never referenced directly, but President Donald Trump's travel ban loomed over RSA Conference 2017 and led to several speakers delivering pro-immigration remarks during the show.

Starting with the opening keynotes on Tuesday, several RSA Conference speakers called for tech immigration reform and addressed Trump's recent executive order, which prohibited visitors, refugees and legal U.S. residents from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. Those nations are Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

The remarks were at times subtle references to immigration and diversity, while at other times stronger critiques of Trump's actions. Zulfikar Ramzan, CTO of RSA, delivered Tuesday's opening keynote and got the ball rolling on the issue.

"Do we believe in the power of diversity? Can we address the complex cybersecurity challenges on the horizon and the massive staffing crunch that faces our industry and plagues it, if we continue to alienate half of the population across gender, race and culture? No," Ramzan said. "This year, in fact, we held our inaugural cybersecurity and diversity session at the RSA Conference. I'm asking you to join that conversation."

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, offered more explicit comments on Trump's executive order and compared it to a different controversy featured at last year's RSA Conference: the legal battle between Apple and the FBI over encryption.

"Just as we came together last year in an important moment in time when everyone was focused on the Apple case, there is an obvious issue that is uniting our industry today that I think has some relevance as well," Smith said during his RSA Conference 2017 keynote. "As the country and world talk about immigration, they look at the technology sector and they recognize that, as an industry, we in many ways have brought the world together. We bring the world together in our technology and products and connections we forge with people across borders every day. But it's more than that. We almost uniquely have brought the world together under our own roofs."

Microsoft was one of more than 100 companies, including Google, Intel and Facebook, that signed an amicus brief opposing Trump's executive order and calling for tech immigration reform. Smith explained why the travel ban was particularly relevant to both Microsoft and the tech industry as a whole; he said Microsoft has employees from 157 different countries and that the company is like "the United Nations of information technology."

"And our company is not unique," he said. "Every company in our industry is like that. We have brought the world together. And it has put us in a position to forge perhaps almost a unique level of mutual understanding and respect for the needs of people around the planet. As we think about protecting the planet [and] as we think about addressing nation-state attacks, that is a powerful force that should inspire us and on which we can build."

Finally, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the most extensive remarks on the topic during his keynote address Tuesday. McCaul initially praised the executive order and then days later qualified that support; he also found himself at the center of the controversy after former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed he worked with McCaul as part of a commission to compose a "Muslim ban" for the Trump administration, which McCaul denied.

Before beginning his talk on nation-state cyberattacks Tuesday, McCaul tried to set the record straight regarding his views on immigration and Trump's executive order.

"This morning some of you are joining us from overseas, and for many others, you began your journey to America years ago," McCaul said. "I'm proud that our nation is a beacon of hope to people in all corners of the globe who seek to create, collaborate and innovate. Thank you."

"But in light of recent events in Washington, I know there is deep concern in this room about whether U.S. policies will continue to welcome that international talent. So let me say this, and we should never forget this: This is a country built by immigrants. This is a nation where the oppressed have long sought refuge, and our country is a magnet for creators and entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and pursue their dreams. The United States must maintain that tradition, not only for our country's credibility but for the survival of liberty itself. That is why I will fight to ensure that America continues to extend an open hand to peaceful, freedom-loving people regardless of where they were born, regardless of how they worship and regardless of the color of their skin -- because that is who we are," he said, to audience applause. "And that is how we will attract the world's best thinkers to build a strong country and a more vibrant global economy."

McCaul also called for tech immigration reform, stressing the need for a "talented cybersecurity workforce on the front lines" and stating his support for H-1B visas.

"I believe America's doors must stay open to high-skilled workers who will contribute to our society and join us in building an innovation economy," he said, with the audience applauding. "And that is why I'm supporting efforts in Congress to streamline our H-1B visa process to make sure tech companies can get the right people from the right places at the right time."

While the conference itself saw no protests or disruptions regarding Trump's executive order, a pro-immigration rally occurred a few blocks away from the Moscone Center on Monday that reportedly included some RSA Conference attendees.

Next Steps

Find out what the cybersecurity skills shortage means for enterprise CISOs

Read what leaders in the open source cloud community think about the immigration ban

Discover how online recruitment software can boost tech hiring diversity

Dig Deeper on Government information security management

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What are your feelings about the immigration discussion at RSA Conference 2017?
"And that is why I'm supporting efforts in Congress to streamline our H-1B visa process to make sure tech companies can get the right people from the right places at the right time."

While lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas, H-1B workers are the "best and brightest".  Come payday, however, they're entry-level workers.

The Government Accountability Office put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at "Level I", which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment". Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at "Level IV", which is officially defined by the US Dept. of Labor as those who are "fully competent" [1]. This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they're experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

So this means one of two things: either companies are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing "the best and brightest" is meaningless), or they're looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, companies are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 [2], especially those at the Level I and Level II categories.

Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember - the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [3][4].

[1] GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM - Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
[2] Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014
[3] NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
[4] NACE Salary Survey - September 2014 Executive Summary
An Atlantic Monthly article that shows that most economists' thinking that an increased influx of immigrants provides more jobs for Americans is FALSE and does harm jobs for US workers and the economy:
The Conscience Of A Liberal--Paul Krugman

"First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small." 
" But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

"My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand...

"Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. "

Also, it is patently untrue that "immigrants" are the solution to low rate of start-ups:
Is this what to expect from DREAMers?:

Ruben Navarrette: One Dreamer’s missed lesson in good character
What a bunch of absolute trash. So a DREAMer can't express pride in her country of origin because it makes people uneasy? 

If people are so easily offended by the display of another flag, then I suggest they 1) stop calling liberals "snowflakes" and 2) tell me where the protests are for the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Oktoberfest,, etc.
Your vehemence belies the real offense. "DREAMers" usually note that the USA is the only country that they've ever known, that they consider themselves "Americans." As the article states, her actions smacks of ungratefulness and does not recognize the generosity and graciousness of the American People. The article also states that this was the wrong time and place to exhibit "pride" for a country that had very little to do with her success. You can exhibit pride in your culture, etc. but when and how she did it was a slap in the face. This is also seen where Illegal Aliens march and say they want US citizenship but fly the flags of the origin country. In other words, their actions don't match their words, which just hurts their cause.