High Tech Companies Push for H-1B Amendment in Senate Bill

Posted on: May 18th, 2013
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Another clash between two interest groups in Washington, D.C. as the debate over immigration reform continues.
What is going on with mark-ups in the Senate on the immigration reform bill is that High-tech companies that need to bring more skilled workers to the U.S. are pushing for more concessions. The main issue of contention between the high tech groups and the unions is proposals by one of the bill’s sponsors Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to add a number of restrictions on the program first, including trying to recruit for U.S. workers first. While the overall goal of the legislation is good, and will increase the number of H-1B visas, the price to pay for these amendments may be too high for many companies that use this visa to recruit talent, especially in IT, computer software, engineering, and other positions in shortage.
However, the labor unions claim that Silicon Valley had already gotten enough in the legislation and further changes risked chipping away at protections for U.S. workers. This argument is ridiculous because unemployment in these occupations is generally less than 3% which is nothing more than people moving between jobs in normal economical terms. The reason that Sen. Durbin added these restriction to the bill in the first place was to garner wide support especially from the unions for passage of the bill.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has stepped up to help the tech companies, proposing many amendments to help ease the requirements of the H-1B visa program, not increase them. He may be a swing vote on the immigration bill so the bill sponsors would like to get his support, and Utah is becoming a major high-tech employer.
The good thing about the bill would be that the H-1B cap would be raised from the current 65,000 annually to 110,000, with the potential to adjust upward to 180,000 depending on how many visa applications are received and what the unemployment rate is. However, High-tech companies say the unemployment rate should not be a factor because it might not reflect actual demand for skilled workers, which especially in IT has historically been very low. There is also concern that the companies would have to recruit U.S. workers first, a condition that is not required under the law right now. It makes sense for H-1B dependent employers which are those who have a large percentage of H-1B workers but not on most employers whose H-1B employees rate is less than 15%.
Other positive provisions in the bill exempt advanced degrees STEM graduates from U.S. schools, from annual limits on the permanent resident visas and creates a new visa for foreign entrepreneurs coming to the U.S. to start companies. Overall the bill is good but the restrictions on H-1B employment should go away.