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How Mark Zuckerberg is selling immigration reform

The CEO of Facebook founded a political action group FWD.us and is delivering an address on immigration reform at the premier of a new documentary, all in an effort to get more immigrants to work in tech.

Who would have thought Facebook’s elusive CEO Mark Zuckerberg would be the one spearheading immigration reform, representing the voice of Silicon Valley?

Tech CEOs are not known for their political activism, if anything they’ve been criticized for solving only their demographic’s problems, those of mostly privileged white males. Why then is Zuckerberg putting so much effort into getting the government to open its gates for more immigrants?

Make no mistake, it’s purely a ploy to get access to talent, namely math and science students and engineers who make up the bulk of the innovation workforce in Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg (and the tech companies supporting him) are not trying to solve the problems of illegal aliens getting into the country from the southern border. They’re not worrying about the immigrants who’ve come to the country, are working minimum wage jobs and are trying to make it on the tortuous path to citizenship. The tech industry has been very vocal about how starved everyone is for talent. The demand here is for highly skilled workers only.

Every year, the U.S. government announces a set number of H-1B visas that will be issued to foreign workers allowing them to work in the country temporarily for 5 years. The catch is the workers have to stay with the same company that is sponsoring them for the entire duration of those 5 years. That also means they pretty much have to take whatever salary is being offered to them if they want to stay in the country. 

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg does have a point about how the U.S system is broken when it comes to keeping highly skilled workers, even though so many of them come here to study. Obviously there’s been concern among lawmakers about whether they are taking away jobs from Americans, to which the tech industry says there just aren’t enough Americans studying the disciplines we need.

Zuckerberg has not always been known as a great communicator, so people have been skeptical of his success at activism. In addition, he isn’t the most well liked CEO, outside of his company anyway.  But here’s what he’s done to give his message some credibility.

Called in the big guns

Zuckerberg’s political action group FWD.us has the backing of Silicon Valley royalty, including the heads of Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo. With such names as Marissa Mayer, Bill Gates and venture capitalist John Doerr supporting your cause, it makes it look like a genuine effort on behalf of an entire industry, whose products are widely used and respected. People might not like Zuckerberg personally, but they can get behind his cause, just like some of the big name CEOs they do like. 

Used the media

In April, Zuckerberg picked The Washington Post, instead of TechCrunch or AllThingsD to publish his op-ed column, where he stated the goals of his new political advocacy. “We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants,” wrote Zuckerberg. “And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.”  This was a clear cut effort to reach a wide, not-tech centered audience and it gave him a chance to make the issue a national one, not just for Silicon Valley.

Used his own media

Recently, the Facebook CEO took to his own social media platform to answer questions about what he was hoping to achieve through immigration reform. Predictably, the session got a lot of cynical comments, but Zuckerberg was up for the challenge. 

“If it’s just about tech wanting to hire more people, not as impressive” wrote one commenter. “It’s definitely not just about tech immigration” Zuckerberg retorted. He added “The bigger problem we’re trying to address is ensuring the 11 million undocumented folks living in this country now and similar folks in the future are treated fairly.” Not too many CEOs can hold one on one sessions with consumers that easily, and by doing it personally Zuckerberg gave some credibility to the fact that he was actually passionate about the cause.

Tag on to local efforts

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Zuckerberg will deliver an address on immigration reform next month at the premiere of a documentary made by Jose Antonio Vargas titled “Documented.” The film documents the experience of an illegal immigrant living in the U.S. and by showing up to support it, Zuckerberg is trying to show that he cares about the bigger issue, not just solving the problem for tech. It’s still a hard stigma to get away from, but at least he’s making the effort. 


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