U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order barring citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries has prompted nationwide protests and led tech companies, including Amazon, to consider legal action due to potential business impacts.
But for some tech companies around the world, the ban has already thrown operations into chaos.
“Until the executive order, we didn’t really care about who’s from where or what religion they were, we didn’t ask, but all these things have been a distraction and worrying,” said Husayn Kassai, the CEO and co-founder of London-based startup Onfido.
The company, which uses artificial intelligence to help clients carry out complex background checks, boasts a 145-person staff representing 41 different nationalities.
Kassai was born in Manchester, U.K., but holds dual citizenship in Iran and the U.K. He moved to San Francisco to helm the company’s stateside expansion, which now employees 10 people.
Kassai, who holds a U.S. green card, is exempt from the Trump administration’s immigration order, according to a recent clarification from the White House, but he said there’s too much uncertainty to know if he will be leaving the country anytime soon.
Unlike Kassai, Onfido Co-founder Eamon Jubbawy doesn’t have a green card, and he was born in Iraq. He’s currently in London, and does not expect to be allowed to visit the U.S.-arm of his company in the near future.
As for Kassai, he met with his general counsel on the Monday morning following the ban. “I need to decide by this week if I’m going to leave the country. I just need to check with the lawyers if I’ll be able to come back,” he said.
He has an upcoming trip planned to Mexico to meet with clients and a trade mission trip to Australia with the U.K. government. In November, he traveled to India on a trade mission with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to identify fast-growing tech companies.
Kassai said he regularly travels globally to speak at conferences and makes frequent trips to London to meet with his product team and potential job candidates.
“If the co-founders aren’t able to be mobile, it’s like a company operating with one hand behind its back,” Kassai said.
Still, he considers himself relatively fortunate to have a company big enough to have its own legal team. “I know some startups, they’re just starting out with three or four people and the founder has a visa and is unsure if he can stay or not,” he said.
That’s where organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union may help. The ACLU said it received more than $24 million in online donations following Trump’s executive order.
Meanwhile Persian Tech Entrepreneurs, a non-profit and non-political organization, said it mobilized volunteers at airports including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York this week.
“This was so sudden that it didn’t give the individual and companies time to legally understand this,” Shobeir Shobeiri, the organization’s co-founder told CNBC.