Uber chief steps away from Trump board, as tech leaders dial up political pushback

The ride hailing company's chief executive officer, Travis Kalanick, has announced he will quit his position on a board advising President Trump.

Adnan Abidi/REUTERS
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick addresses a gathering at an event in New Delhi, India last December. After protests and boycott of Uber, Kalanick has decided to quit Trump's economic advisory council.

Travis Kalanick, the chief executive of global ride-hailing company Uber, has said he will step down from a council of business advisors to the White House, as major tech companies continue to protest President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugee programs.

The announcement is the latest in a series of critical responses to Mr. Trump's executive orders, highlighting the tech industry's difficult position as it tries to engage with Trump, while still advocating for immigration laws that support their employees.

Mr. Kalanick has repeatedly said that his role in the advisory group was not meant to endorse Trump, but it still prompted a strong backlash, including protests at Uber's San Francisco headquarters on Inauguration Day and social media campaigns to #deleteUber this past week, which led more than 200,000 customers to delete their accounts, according to The New York Times.

In the face of the outcry, Kalanick has decided to step down from the council. Other tech leaders who are still participating include Tesla’s Elon Musk, Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, General Motors’ Mary Barra, and Disney’s Bob Iger, according to Quartz.

"There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that," Kalanick wrote in an email to Uber's employees. "The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America."

Kalanick's decision comes as a wave of tech CEOs, startup founders, and venture capitalists are reportedly circulating an open letter to Trump, expressing concern about the immigration orders as they scrambled with plans to help their affected workers.

Microsoft has filed a formal request with the administration to ask them to grant exceptions for all work and student visa holders, as USA Today reported.

"[These individuals] are deeply valued contributors to the innovation, research and business acumen of our nation," wrote Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith in the letter. "[It would] be tragic for a student to be faced with the need to forfeit a dream of completing one’s education in the United States to tend to family needs that are entirely outside of one’s control."

The ban has especially unnerved Silicon Valley, where companies rely heavily on a flow of high-skilled immigrant workers and are full of immigrant success stories, including Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

“People come to Silicon Valley so they can build the American Dream, and this is one of the last places where the American Dream still kind of works,” Jonathan Nelson, the chief executive of the network Hackers/Founders, told the Washington Post. “If this happens, you’re going to completely kill the next 10 years of tech companies.”

But the H1-B visa program, which allows US companies to recruit high-level talent from abroad, was also targeted by Trump on the campaign trail as a “cheap labor program.”

“There’s an overall need to look at all of these programs ... to address immigration as a whole and the visa program,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this week at a press briefing.

Some company leaders, however, have portrayed their opposition to the rules as about more than business.

"Immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country's success and quite honestly to Uber's [success," Uber's Kalanick wrote in his staff memo, concluding, "We will fight for the rights of immigrants in our communities so that each of us can be who we are with optimism and hope for the future."

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