WASHINGTON—During his inauguration speech President Donald Trump spoke about a number of issues that were designed to appeal to his base, including calls for improving infrastructure in the U.S., declining to support a multi-lateral trade partnership and a strong call to as he said it, to “put America First.”
But then towards the end, Trump issued a call that should give the technology industry some encouragement. “We stand at the birth of a new millennium,” he said, “ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.”
But that’s a personal sentiment, which is not the same thing as policy. The important question is what does the new administration plan for policies that impact technology industries? There, some broad areas are clear, and in general they’re business-friendly.
For example, a number of statements by President Trump indicate that he would lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, increase tax benefits for research and development as well as accelerate the depreciation rate for business purchases.
These are all beneficial to corporate interests and they especially favor technology companies, if only because tech companies spend a lot on R&D. But the acceleration of depreciation also means that companies can buy more of the technology industry’s products more quickly.
Such support for tax breaks on research and on depreciation may be related to new interest by Apple and others including Foxconn and Axios in moving manufacturing from Asia to the U.S. Likewise, Japan’s technology giant, Softbank has announced a plan to invest $50 Billion in startups in the U.S. Such plans, even if only partly carried out, would being a significant number of new manufacturing jobs to the U.S.
Perhaps more important, such plans, especially those from Softbank, would go a long way in funding innovation in the U.S, which in turn has its own cascading series of economic benefits.
But there are also clouds on the new administration’s horizon at least as far as the tech industry is concerned, and none are of greater concern to Silicon Valley than questions about the administration's policy on H-1B visas.
These visas allow foreign workers into the U.S. to fill jobs that require particular technical expertise that supposedly can't be found among U.S. citizens. Trump, his advisers and some of his proposed cabinet appointees have made conflicting statements about the future of these visas.
One source for the apparent conflicts has to do with how H-1B visas as approved. Currently, they’re issued through a lottery, which would appear to give each worker an equal chance. But in reality a few very large outsourcing companies flood the lottery with visa applications, most of which are from mid-level IT workers rather than highly trained or experienced experts.
Recently Trump has said that the U.S. needs to bring in more people who are experts in science and technology and that H-1B visa “abuse” needs to stop. However, he did not specify exactly what he means by abuse.