WASHINGTON May 17 The technology industry and
organized labor are locked in a fight that threatens to
complicate the U.S. Senate's immigration bill.
At the heart of the debate is whether there is a shortage of
Americans with the math and science skills needed for work at
technology firms like Facebook Inc, Google Inc
and Microsoft Corp.
Labor is brandishing research that says the scarcity of
workers is a myth while the tech industry is pointing to other
studies that say the shortage is very real and is a threat to
In behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has created a quandary
for Senate supporters of a broad immigration bill, lobbyists say
Silicon Valley is pulling out all the stops to fight
restrictions on a foreign-worker visa program known as H-1B that
is aimed at making sure Americans get the first crack at any job
Talks are expected to be ongoing this weekend to try to
resolve the dispute over the high-skilled visa program that has
proved to be a stumbling block for the Senate Judiciary
Committee, which aims to vote on the immigration legislation by
the end of the month.
If a deal can't be reached, it could alienate tech companies
that have told lawmakers they might reconsider their support for
the bill. It could also cost the vote of a key Republican
senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is on the fence about the
LABOR SAYS PLENTY OF U.S. WORKERS
The immigration bill, President Barack Obama's top domestic
legislative priority, would create a path to citizenship for
some 11 million undocumented immigrants, step up border
enforcement and nearly triple the number of visas for
high-skilled foreign workers. The legislation, drafted by a
bipartisan group of eight senators, would also create new guest
worker programs for low-skilled jobs such as waiters, hotel
workers and construction workers.
The AFL-CIO has accused the tech industry, which has put its
huge lobbying muscle into the fight, of becoming "greedy." The
companies have already had a great deal of influence on the
legislation and are now "trying to get more and more and more,"
said Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto, legislative representative with
A study that labor and its allies have been touting has
become a flashpoint for its dispute with Silicon Valley. The
report from the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) think
tank, says the United States has "more than a sufficient supply"
of workers with education in science, technology, engineering
and math, known as STEM. It says that for every two students
graduating from U.S. colleges with such degrees, only one has
been getting hired in science or technology fields. (EPI study:)
The EPI study also says there has been wage stagnation in
these fields for years, which it says means workers lack the
power to bid up salaries because there aren't enough job
"If there's a shortage, why don't you increase wages?" said
Hal Salzman, one of the authors of the EPI study.
In a scathing criticism of the EPI study, Robert Hoffman of
the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) - which
represents companies such as Apple Inc, Microsoft and
Google - pointed to 83,000 job openings that were listed on
Dice.com, which posts tech job listings. He also cited data at
the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics that he said shows a
huge demand for computer science majors that is not met by the
number of people graduating in the field.
"This would suggest, for EPI at least, that U.S. employers
are engaged in a massive conspiracy to advertise for U.S. STEM
jobs that do not exist," Hoffman wrote in a blog post last month
on the ITIC web site. "That's quite a conspiracy. I wonder if
EPI thinks we faked the moon landing."
TECH FIRMS SAYS SHORTAGE OF WORKERS
Hoffman pointed to a separate study put out this month by
Hatch is championing the cause of the tech industry, which
wants changes in a provision requiring that companies advertise
jobs on a government-run website and offer them first to
qualified Americans. Tech companies want most firms to only be
required to make "good faith" efforts to hire Americans.
The AFL-CIO's most powerful ally in the fight over
skilled-worker visas is Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois
Democrat who sits on both the Judiciary Committee and is one of
the eight senators who wrote the immigration bill.
In a sign that he is at least open to talking about a way to
satisfy the tech industry, Durbin, when asked if there was a
deal yet on the dispute, said on Thursday morning, "We're
working on it."