Tech industry cautiously welcomes Senate immigration bill

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:54pm EDT

Showgoers visit the Intel booth on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in this January 8, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

Showgoers visit the Intel booth on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in this January 8, 2013, file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tech industry officials welcomed a bipartisan U.S. Senate immigration bill on Tuesday, saying they hoped it would make it easier to hire highly skilled workers from abroad, while laying the groundwork to renegotiate portions they oppose.

The bipartisan "Gang of Eight" group of senators released highlights of the bill, backed by President Barack Obama, that seeks to reform the immigration system and nearly doubles the quota for H-1B visas for skilled workers.

For months, the tech sector has ratcheted up pressure on the U.S. Congress to make highly skilled immigration rules more flexible, arguing that there are not enough highly skilled American workers to fill its growing number of specialty job openings.

"This really does a lot to address our concerns about being able to hire workers when we need them," Intel Corp (INTC.O) policy director Peter Muller said in an interview on Tuesday. "We're certainly going to be looking into details of this going forward ... but in terms of the big picture, we're very encouraged and pleased."

The bill did not propose raising the number of H-1B visas as high as 300,000, as big tech companies had sought in the past, but it would allow the cap to rise to as high as 180,000 in future years, and sets aside 25,000 such visas for graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Companies will likely appreciate some provisions of the bill, including loosening of green card or permanent residency provisions, said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a think tank backed by the pro-entrepreneurship Kauffman Foundation and others.

"But the H-1B provisions will be considered a disaster," he said, citing measures including expanded Department of Labor authority to investigate companies over their decisions to hire H-1B workers.

"Trying to defend yourself for something that has a large degree of subjectivity could be a problem for some companies," Anderson said.


Most companies and tech groups, including the new group formed by Facebook Inc's (FB.O) Mark Zuckerberg to lobby on the issue, withheld comment awaiting a review of the full text of the bill.

"We're very encouraged that they produced a bill and we see a lot of positives, but we do have some concerns we hope to see worked out," said Dan Turrentine, vice president for government relations at TechNet, a group representing such companies as Google Inc (GOOG.O), Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Yahoo! Inc (YHOO.O).

Tech companies will be watching several provisions in the bill that risk becoming hindrances to prompt hiring, including new requirements to pay H-1B visa holders higher wages and to recruit American workers prior to hiring foreigners.

Both provisions seek to address the concerns of workers' groups that oppose raising the number of H-1B visas, saying companies use the visas as a way to hire cheaper workers who lack job mobility.

"We appreciate that the Senate Gang recognizes that serious problems with the H-1B program can be resolved by more STEM green cards, delivered faster," said Marc Apter, president of IEEE-USA, which represents U.S. engineering, computing and technology workers, in a statement.

"In fact, the proposed increases in green cards make H-1B increases unnecessary," Apter said.

The bill also includes provisions that would hurt so-called "H-1B-dependent" companies, like many IT outsourcing firms that employ high numbers of H-1B visa holders - programmers they temporarily hire out to corporate customers.

Those outsourcing firms could have to pay higher fees and wages than companies that depend less on H-1B workers, like Apple, Google and Facebook.

A spokesman for Tata Consulting Services, an outsourcing company, said he could not comment before seeing the full bill.

"We think it's very reasonable to add additional requirements to the users of the H-1B visa, but those also have to be workable requirements, so that's something we're going to pay close attention to," said Intel's Muller.

"But we know it's going to be a long process ... and as a starting point, we're really encouraged."

(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich and Sarah McBride in San Francisco; Editing by Fred Barbash and Todd Eastham)

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Comments (3)
CountryPride wrote:
More selling out of American citizens to give all our high paying jobs to foreigners because they can be paid a little cheaper. Thank our corrupt politicians their buddies in foreign governments, and the big business lobbies who seek to enrich themselves financially from these decisions meanwhile Americans are pushed out of their own best universities, forced to pay higher tuition because colleges are learning that they can just sell a local Americans seat to a child of a rich corrupt foreign official for top dollar. I hope that as a result of all their pushing to sell foreigners our jobs and college seats they continue to steal and rob them of their technology and drive them out of business.

Apr 16, 2013 12:06am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Companies should be required to pay foreigners on H1-B MUCH higher wages. After all if they can’t find anybody smart enough in all of the USA to do this job, then it is only fair that the person being hired get paid more, and companies shouldn’t mind paying extra for somebody who is better than anyone they can find in America. Why would a company complain about that? They are getting what they pay for.

Of course, if they actually had to pay more for the so called “best and the brightest” they would immediately find that the American workers are not so dumb after all, and all of this hiring of the “Best and the Brightest” from around the globe would stop immediately, because the fact is, most are low-skilled workers brought in on the lower end of the pay scale.

Apr 17, 2013 11:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Gathrock wrote:
You can always count on “tech industry officials” and the government to work hand in glove to suppress workers wages. This bill is an official way to bring in lower paid workers, who are basically indentured servants. The win for the greedy tech execs is they gain fearful and beholden foreign employees while keeping salaries low for American workers, whilst the execs pocket even more $$$. Sickening.

Apr 17, 2013 12:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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