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April 13, 2022

Welcome to Login — Scott filling in for Ina today.

💼 Situational awareness: Google plans to invest $9.5 billion in U.S. offices and data centers in 2022, expecting to create 1,200 new jobs, according to Bloomberg.

Today's newsletter is 1,192 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech's immigration-wait headache

Animated illustration of the United States flag with the stars replaced by a loading circle.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech giants are worried their employees will miss out on thousands of potential green cards this year as the U.S. continues to struggle with an immigration backlog, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: In a tight labor market, industry leaders say they can't afford to lose talented high-skilled workers frustrated with long delays in granting permanent legal status.

  • Knowing there's a decade-long wait for a U.S. green card factors into where high-skilled workers decide to go, Intel director of workforce policy David Shahoulian told Axios. "That may mean that we lose out on some top talent as a nation."

What's happening: There are about 280,000 employment-based green cards available this year, but immigration officials are on track to waste about 100,000 of them, based on processing times in the first quarter, Cato Institute research fellow David Bier told Axios.

  • Green cards that are not granted by the end of the fiscal year in September do not carry over to the next year. There were about 66,500 unused last year.
  • "Every indication is that there's going to be a lot of waste again this year," Bier said.

Zoom out: The pandemic contributed to processing delays, as did a sharp increase in the number of employment-based visas available.

What they're saying: "When employees are going through this process, the fear, uncertainty, anxiety and doubt created by the backlog in processing is just brutal," Microsoft associate general counsel Jack Chen told Axios.

Immigration officials have processed fewer than half of Google's employee applications since October 2020, Google chief legal officer Kent Walker told Axios.

  • "Fixing this issue feels critical," Walker said. "From Google's standpoint, we're in a global competition, and companies like Google need talented people from all over the world just to keep up."

The other side: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services used more of the visas in the first half of this fiscal year than the agency did for the same time period last year.

  • A spokesperson for USCIS said the employment-based applications are one of the agency's "highest priority workloads" and it is making staffing and resource allocations to limit the potential for the visas to go unused.
  • The tech companies noted that immigration officials picked up the pace on processing green cards last year, and said they are hopeful officials will build on that momentum.

The intrigue: Wide-ranging legislation meant to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing could include provisions to help ease high-skilled immigration.

  • The House version of the bill, the COMPETES Act, includes a measure that would exempt those with doctoral STEM degrees and master's degrees in a critical industry from the cap on employment-based visas.

What to watch: The tech sector backs the immigration provision, although it would not fully clear the backlog.

  • Intel notes that because roughly 70% of engineering and computer science students in master's and Ph.D programs in U.S. universities are foreign-born, there aren't enough Americans to fill the company's high-skilled jobs.

2. Tim Cook defends Apple's App Store wall

Photo of Tim Cook in formal wear
Tim Cook attends the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 27. Photo: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook made an impassioned plea Tuesday in Washington against looming U.S. and European regulations that could fundamentally change the App Store's model, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Why it matters: Apple is feeling the heat as it may be forced to change longstanding policies it argues are best for user privacy and security.

Driving the news: Cook made the comments during a speech at the International Association of Privacy Professionals' Privacy Summit, as governments consider laws that would force Apple to open up its walled-off App Store.

  • In Europe, lawmakers will soon pass the Digital Markets Act, which would force Apple to allow users to download apps outside of the App Store and let developers use their own payment systems.
  • Similar legislation is winding its way through Congress, but passing it in the U.S. will be a heavier lift.

What they're saying: "We are deeply concerned about regulations that would undermine privacy and security in service of some other aim," Cook said.

  • "Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps in the name of competition that would force Apple to let apps on the iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called 'side loading' ... That means data hungry companies would be able to avoid our privacy rules and once again track our users against their will."

Between the lines: Cook and Apple have repeatedly made the argument that the fees they charge app developers and the policies that keep the App Store under Apple's control are key to keeping people's data safe on iPhones.

  • "Imagine a stranger following you as you take your child to school, holding a camera outside the driver's side window, recording everything you do," he said. "Imagine you open your computer and the stranger is suddenly watching your every keystroke. You wouldn't call that a service. You would call it an emergency."

3. El Salvador tests bitcoin's limits

Photo by Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images
Photo: Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images

El Zonte, a village in El Salvador, is the most fascinating test case to date for a community trying to use bitcoin as currency, Axios Crypto's Pete Gannon reports.

Driving the news: "60 Minutes" traveled to the 3,000-person surfing village known as "Bitcoin Beach."

  • While the existence of El Zonte is hardly a secret to crypto acolytes, the "60 Minutes" segment brought the story to 8.5 million mainstream viewers Sunday night.

Catch up quick: Long before El Salvador made bitcoin legal tender in September 2021, El Zonte was deep into its experiment.

  • In 2019, an anonymous bitcoiner recruited an American expat, Mike Peterson, to help him advance the bitcoin cause.
  • Peterson saw an opportunity for the people of El Zonte and got the ball rolling by using the donated bitcoin to pay local teenagers for odd jobs and persuading a popular food spot to accept it as payment.

When the pandemic hit and crushed El Zonte's surf tourism revenue, Peterson seeded 500 families in the village with $35 worth of bitcoin.

State of play: Today, around 45 businesses in El Zonte accept bitcoin as payment, including dentists, coffee shops and the electric utility company.

  • Last summer, following El Salvador's move to make bitcoin an official currency in the country, downloads of the Bitcoin Beach app exploded and began seeing about 8,000 transactions a day, Peterson told Bloomberg at the time.

Yes, but: Bitcoin's volatility has scared off some merchants.

  • Technical issues have plagued the country's official wallet, and the technological hurdle of understanding — and trusting — bitcoin itself has been too high for many.

Subscribe to the new Axios Crypto daily newsletter.

4. Take note

On Tap

  • The TED conference continues in Vancouver.
  • The Paris Blockchain Week Summit kicks off in France

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5. After you Login

The sand-bubbler crab has a nifty way of walling itself off from the world. Looks kind of tempting, some days!