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H-1B Opponents Angry at Senate Immigration Bill

By Bill at May 27, 2013 19:58
Filed Under: Immigration News

Senate Judiciary Committee Passed the CIR 2013 Bill as Amended on May 21 with 13:5 Majority Votes. This was a huge blow for the H-1B opponents.

As Computer World reported on May 22: The tech industry had won. It was getting late in the day and the committee was moments away from adopting, in a 16-2 vote, 19-pages of tech industry sponsored amendments to the H-1B provisions in the long-awaited Senate immigration bill.

The immigration bill now goes to the full Senate, where more attempts to amend it are expected before a final vote is taken some time in the next several months. The Senate debate will begin next month. The House, meanwhile, has been preparing its own comprehensive immigration bill for vote.

According to Associate Press: Once the bill language became public last month and tech industry officials began absorbing the details, they turned their attention to the next front in the battle: the Senate Judiciary Committee.

They found their champion in Hatch, whose state is an increasingly significant high-tech employer. Fortuitously, he had maximum leverage. Viewed as the one Republican swing vote on the committee, he was courted by the senators who wrote it, Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., among them.

Even as the tech industry remained largely supportive of the legislation in public, its lobbyists began working behind the scenes with Hatch's office on a series of amendments he would introduce in the committee to undo key provisions Durbin had pressed for.

The industry objected to using the unemployment rate in determining how much the number of H-1B visas could increase. One Hatch amendment would have taken the joblesss rate out of the equation. A provision that required tech companies to offer a job to an equally qualified U.S. citizen over an H-1B holder was seen as unworkable by industry. Hatch sought to limit that requirement to companies most dependent on H-1B visas, thereby excluding many major U.S. companies.

The bill sought to bar companies from displacing a U.S. worker within 90 days of filing an application for an H-1B visa. Hatch alao sought to limit that requirement to heavy H-1B hirers. Durbin objected to the changes. Unions, which had been largely quiet on high-tech issues while focusing on other priorities including a pathway to citizenship and a separate visa program allowing lower-skilled workers into the U.S., also spoke up in opposition.

But the AFL-CIO's opposition never was seen as a serious concern by senators or aides involved. They were confident that labor would not pull its support for a bill offering citizenship to millions over a provision affecting relatively few union workers.

Ana Avendano, assistant to the AFL-CIO president for immigration and community action, acknowledged that the union's strong support for a path to citizenship hampered its leverage on other issues.

"We have not veered from our commitment to the path to citizenship. But we are equally committed to other parts of this bill, and it makes our fight for our priorities more difficult," she said. "Tech was extremely fortunate that they found an ally on the committee that could open up a deal that had been sealed."

There was little opposition from other fronts. The companies that are the heaviest H-1B users — and would therefore face the brunt of the restrictions under Hatch's proposals — include technology companies based in India that have scant lobbying presence or constituency in Congress. An organization representing U.S. engineers and tech workers, IEEE-USA, has little clout compared with companies like Microsoft and Facebook.

As the Judiciary Committee began wading through amendments to the bill, Hatch was negotiating with Schumer over his amendments. Schumer wanted Hatch's vote for the bill without alienating Durbin.

Last Tuesday morning, the committee's final day working on the bill, word went out: There was a deal.

When the details emerged, Hatch had won much of what he wanted. The unemployment rate would no longer be a factor in how high the H-1B visa cap could go up, as long as it was not 4.5 percent or above for the highly skilled professions in question. Only those companies most heavily dependent on H-1B visas would have to offer jobs to qualified U.S. citizens first, although the definition of an H-1B-dependent company was tweaked to make it slightly narrower. And the provision barring displacement of U.S. workers within 90 days was also limited in much the way Hatch sought.

The committee approved the changes, with Durbin voting "yes," though only after making clear his discomfort with the outcome.

The AFL-CIO refused to sign off on the deal, but remained supportive of the overall bill. The tech industry pledged its support for the bill, and promised not to seek additional changes, according to Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, which represents high-tech companies including Google, Intel and Microsoft.

In the aftermath, Durbin and labor officials accused the tech industry of taking advantage of Hatch's position on the committee in order to reopen a done deal, to the detriment of U.S. workers. But Corley insisted that the tech industry never had agreed to the restrictions in the original bill and was only trying to ensure the H-1B program would be workable for an industry that's good for American workers and the U.S. economy.

There are a lot of areas in the Senate bill that are certain to draw criticism, particularly some last-minute changes. Please visit Computer World for full report: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9239471/A_stinky_onion_blooms_in_the_Senate_say_H_1B_critics.

The revised bill also further increased H-1B Visa limit

 

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