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What San Diego's High-Tech Industry Is (And Isn't) Saying About Trump's Immigration Order

The Qualcomm headquarters building in San Diego, Nov. 2, 2011.
Associated Press
The Qualcomm headquarters building in San Diego, Nov. 2, 2011.
What San Diego's High-Tech Industry Is (And Isn't) Saying About Trump's Immigration Order
While some San Diego companies are expressing concern about President Trump's executive orders on immigration, others are staying silent.

Some San Diego companies are expressing concern about President Trump's recent executive actions on immigration, which include barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

But other major players in the local high-tech and biotech industries have avoided taking a position on Trump's orders, or have stayed silent.

Many high-skilled workers and business leaders in San Diego are immigrants. Some executives are speaking out against Trump's travel ban, saying it directly affects a number of their employees and hurts business overall.


"There's no question that in a high-technology industry, it's very bad for business," said Bassil Dahiyat, CEO of Xencor, a company headquartered in the Los Angeles area with an approximately 20-employee research and development location in San Diego.

Dahiyat said two Xencor employees are now canceling travel plans because they come from one of the seven countries and are worried they or their family members may not be let into the United States.

Dahiyat worries about how this could affect Xencor's ability to hire and retain talented workers from various backgrounds, but he also says Trump's actions are more broadly troubling to him as the son of two Jordanian immigrants.

"My underlying concern is that this escapes the whole premise of America: that anybody can come here and be an American and contribute," said Dahiyat.

San Diego gene sequencing company Illumina sent KPBS a statement via email expressing concern for employees who may be affected.


"Our ability to innovate depends on a diverse and talented team of individuals from different geographies, backgrounds and experiences," the statement reads. "We will be proactively reaching out to members of Congress to share our concerns about how changes in immigration policies like this impact Illumina and our employees."

Many national pharmaceutical and biotech industry organizations have not spoken out about Trump's orders. Joe Panetta, CEO of San Diego-based life sciences industry trade group Biocom, did respond to KPBS's request for comment, but stopped short of taking a position on Trump's actions.

"We are closely monitoring developments around the new U.S. travel restrictions imposed this weekend and serving as a resource to our members," Panetta wrote via email. "The situation surrounding the executive order on immigration remains very fluid and we will stay focused on the well-being of our member companies, providing them with appropriate support as needed."

Many Silicon Valley tech companies and executives have shared their concern about how Trump's orders could affect their workers, but San Diego tech giant Qualcomm has not weighed in.

An analysis of H1-B visas shows that Qualcomm is one of the top tech employers of guest workers from the seven countries listed in the Trump administration's travel ban, though the total number of such workers is small.

"Qualcomm has some workers who are from the affected countries — more than many of the other tech companies," said Howard University associate professor of public policy Ron Hira, who ran the analysis.

Hira's breakdown looks at H1-B visas approved for workers from the seven listed countries in fiscal year 2013. He finds that Qualcomm Technologies Inc. received 21 such visas that year, all for workers from Iran. Only Microsoft received more.

The true number of Qualcomm workers who come from the affected countries is likely higher, as this analysis only looks at a single year's worth of H1-B visa approvals. But Hira says their numbers are still quite low compared to workers from India, who make up most of the H1-B workforce.

"It's not that none of their workers are affected," said Hira. "It's just they're not a big player in this. The majority of people who are going to be affected have nothing to do with tech."

Qualcomm is currently facing a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission which alleges the company engaged in businesses practices aiming to establish a monopoly and prevent competition.