Gianforte backs Trump’s crackdown on guest worker visas

Greg Gianforte

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte’s campaign on Monday said he supports President Donald Trump’s recent “Hire American” executive order, including its crackdown on visas for foreign workers – something Gianforte used widely after founding RightNow Technologies.

Over a 10-year span starting in 2001, RightNow Technologies applied for 66 visas to bring foreign workers into the company, including engineers and sales account managers, according to a public database that tracks legal immigration into the U.S.

Despite the company’s use of H1-B visas, otherwise known as the guest-worker program, Gianforte, a Republican, is backing Trump’s push to curtail their use, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said.

“(Gianforte) believes we need to crack down on abuse of visa programs to protect American jobs and should minimize the use (of) H1-B visas,” Scanlon said a written response to questions on the issue. “(He) supports President Trump’s Hire American executive order because he believes we need to put America and Montana first again.”

In his executive order, signed in April, Trump took what the White House described as a “transitional step” toward revamping the immigration system by ordering a review of programs intended to attract skilled immigrant labor.

Trump specifically targeted the H1-B visa program, saying it has been “abused to the point of being rendered … inoperative.” The program permits roughly 85,000 foreign workers into the U.S. each year to fill technical jobs at American companies.

That included as many as 66 visas applied for by RightNow Technologies, which Gianforte founded in 1997 and sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.5 billion. Over a 10-year span ending with the company’s sale, roughly 75 percent of its visa applications in Bozeman were for foreign workers.

They earned between $23,500 and $200,000, depending on the job.

“(Gianforte) is proud of his record starting a global high-tech company that became one of Montana’s most successful businesses, creating over 500 high-paying Montana jobs,” Scanlon said. “(Gianforte’s) success resulted in the company becoming Bozeman’s largest commercial employer.”

While the guest-worker program is popular within the information technology industry, Trump has accused the sector of “importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans.”

Gianforte’s campaign echoed those sentiments on Monday, though it didn’t address their use at RightNow Technologies when Gianforte owned it.

“His goal, which he has supported with personal donations to the Montana University System, is to make sure we have more Montanans with the degrees and skills needed to land high-wage jobs,” Scanlon said, adding that RightNow Technologies “competed against some of the biggest corporations in the world in one of the fiercest markets” and won.

According to records, RightNow Technologies applied for five visas in 2011 and nine in 2010. The bulk of the visa were received in 2008 with 12 applications and 10 in 2006.

The company applied for its first round of guest-worker visas in 2001 for a programmer analyst earning $45,000 a year and a quality assurance engineer earning $57,500. That year, according to an Associated Press article, RightNow Technologies laid off 33 employees, including eight in Bozeman.

Gianforte, in Dallas at the time, attributed the layoffs that October to a drop in sales following the terrorist attacks the month before.

Tina Olechowski, communications director for the Rob Quist congressional campaign, said Gianforte’s actions contradict his new position on worker visas.

“The fact is that Gianforte outsourced jobs to Armenia and India and hired foreign workers at the same time he was firing Montanans,” said Olechowski. “That may be how you do business in New Jersey, but no real Montanan would do that.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com