Airbnb offers free housing to refugees affected by US travel ban

Airbnb will provide free housing to refugees and others affected by the executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. 

Jeff Chiu/AP/
Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an announcement in San Francisco on April 19, 2016.

Refugees and those affected by President Trump's Muslim travel ban are welcome to stay in Airbnb housing for free if they wish, the tech company's chief executive officer, Brian Chesky, announced Sunday. 

"Airbnb is providing free housing to refugees and anyone else who needs it in the event they are denied the ability to board a US-bound flight and are not in your city/country of residence,"  said Mr. Chesky in a tweet. "We have 3 million homes, so we can definitely find people a place to stay." 

After Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from entering the United States, opponents of the ban have staged protests and filed lawsuits arguing that the order is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Silicon Valley leaders were quick to voice their disapproval of the action, which could affect a number of industry employees. Some, like Chesky, vowed to take action. 

"Open doors brings all of US together. Closing doors further divides US. Let's all find ways to connect people, not separate them," wrote the Airbnb founder on Twitter. "Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right, and we must stand with those who are affected." 

Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly butted heads with tech industry leaders on the subject of immigration, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in November: 

Trump's feelings toward the H-1B visa program for temporary foreign workers – the majority of which work in technology fields – appear to have reversed course throughout his campaign, raising anxiety among industry leaders who say there aren't enough skilled Americans to fill those jobs. 

After initially proposing that the H-1B program be restricted, that tech companies be required to hire Americans first, and that the prevailing wage for H-1B workers be raised, Trump appeared to have changed his mind, saying during a Republican debate, "We need highly-skilled people in this country and if we can't do it, we'll get them in." Shortly after, he put out a statement promising to "end forever" the H-1B program, calling it a "cheap labor program." 

The president-elect's stance on the program has remained largely unclear since, and the days following the election – during which he has surrounded himself with advisers and backers with strict views on immigration and said that sweeping changes to US immigration policy would rank among his top three priorities – have contributed to growing speculation and concerns that the tech industry may soon find itself short necessary workers.

The executive order signed Friday is also expected to affect a number of tech industry workers, as it temporarily bars all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, even if they hold valid visas or permanent residence permits. A number of companies, including Apple Inc, voiced opposition to the ban and promised to help affected employees.

"We have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company," said chief executive officer Tim Cook in a statement.

Uber Technologies Inc head Travis Kalanick announced in an email sent to Uber employees Saturday that the rideshare company would compensate drivers from the seven countries who might not be able to return to the United States for at least three months. 

Mr. Kalanick, who has been criticized by some employees for participating in President Trump's business advisory council, also vowed to use his relationship with the president to try to help affected employees. 

"This ban will impact many innocent people – an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting," he said. 

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