By Stephen Nellis
(Reuters) - Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> on Thursday said it proposed a program to U.S. President Donald Trump's administration allowing people from seven predominantly Muslim nations to enter and leave the United States on business or family emergency travel if they hold valid work or student visas and have not committed any crimes.
In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Microsoft President Brad Smith outlined a program for case-by-case review of exceptions to a travel ban instituted last week.
Microsoft is the first major U.S. company to press the government to create a formal program that would ease the ban for foreign-born workers who do not have permanent residence in the United States. Permanent residents, known as green card holders, were granted an exemption on Sunday.
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The proposal argued that Kelly and Tillerson have the power to grant exceptions to the travel ban under the order issued last week by Trump.
Technology companies including Microsoft, Google owner Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O>, Apple Inc <AAPL.O> and Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> have been vocal in their opposition to Trump’s order, arguing that they rely on workers from around the world to create their products and services.
Amazon and Expedia Inc <EXPE.O> filed declarations of support on Monday in a legal challenge to the order by the Washington state Attorney General. Microsoft said on Thursday that 76 of its employees and 41 dependents were affected by the travel ban.
Microsoft’s proposal would cover holders of the H-1B visa, a temporary work visa that the tech sector relies on to recruit foreign talent. Kelly issued an order on Sunday saying that green card holders would be allowed to travel under the executive orders, but H-1B holders from the seven affected countries are still banned.
The proposal would also allow students to travel from affected countries if they can prove they were enrolled and in good standing at a U.S. school. The letter proposed that both students and employees would not be allowed to travel to the banned countries for business reasons but could travel there for family reasons with case-by-case approval.
"In short, these individuals are 'known quantities' in their communities: their character, personalities, conduct, and behavior is understood by their colleagues, employers, friends, and neighbors," Microsoft's Smith said in a blog post made at the same time the company sent its letter.
Microsoft is also among several technology companies considering signing an open letter to Trump expressing concern about his ban on Syrian refugees, along with other issues such as the estimated 750,000 people brought to the United States as children whose immigration status is unclear.
The letter is being circulated among tech companies and companies outside the sector, according to two sources in the industry familiar with the matter.
Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Apple, Google and Microsoft, along with a number of companies outside the sector, are considering signing, the sources said. Recode and Bloomberg previously reported the letter's existence.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Apple and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington; Editing by Peter Henderson and Meredith Mazzilli)