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High-Tech Immigration Reform Still Has Considerable, If Frustrated Support, but H-1B Visas Receive Criticism

file0001248075137.jpgTech leaders from Silicon Valley continue to push for immigration reforms that will help them recruit top talent from around the world, but they are encountering resistance to a solution that does not also address other immigration issues. In short, they may not be able to get the reforms they want unless is it part of something comprehensive. At the same time, some lawmakers and advocates are criticizing the H-1B specialty worker visa program as possibly harmful to both American and immigrant workers. Many proposals for reform of high-tech immigration would offer green cards rather than temporary visas.

High-Tech Frustrations

Several bills pending in Congress have the support of much of the high-tech industry. One of them, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, or “I-Squared Act,” focuses on high-skilled workers with advanced degrees. The bill would increase the annual H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000, and it would modify procedures for certain employment-based green cards. Another bill, the Startup Act 2.0, would provide visas for 50,000 immigrants who obtain an advanced degree from a U.S. university in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). It would also make 75,000 “entrepreneur visas” available every year. This visa category would apparently differ from the existing EB-5 investor visa, requiring a petitioner to raise $100,000 or more in funding for a startup. The petitioner would have to hire two U.S. workers for the startup immediately, with plans to hire at least three more within a defined period of time.

The frustration comes from resistance to any bill that is not part of a comprehensive set of reforms. Comprehensive immigration reform is relatively rare. The last immigration bill that might be considered “comprehensive” was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, which made broad changes to federal immigration enforcement. Before that, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 established many of the employment regulations in effect today.

H-1B Criticisms

Temporary worker visas came under fire during a hearing of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in early March. Republicans and Democrats alike questioned the H-1B program’s impact on American workers. The subcommittee chair, Trey Gowdry (R-SC) questioned whether employers are laying off American workers in favor of H-1B visa holders. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) wondered whether H-1B workers lowered wages for American and other immigrant workers. Most witnesses spoke in favor of either maintaining or increasing the number of available H-1B visas, except for one witness, IEEE-USA lobbyist Bruce Morrison. Morrison noted the potential for abuse of H-1B visa holders by employers. The H-1B program brings in workers from abroad for a specific job, with no option for adjusting status, which could have the effect of tying the worker to that employer.

Green Card Solutions?

Morrison and other witnesses recommended making green cards available for high-skilled workers, particularly those in the STEM fields. H-1B visas could still allow employers to bring workers in quickly while they wait for the government to process green card applications. Given current backlogs, processing for new green cards could take years, but green cards give workers greater flexibility, which could benefit business and the economy in general by promoting competition and keeping wages up.

The Rant

With all the varying interests in the immigration reform debates, comprehensive immigration reform may prove to be a case of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Just about everyone can agree that the immigration system is badly in need of reform, and STEM visas are just one aspect. The H-1B visa and option for a STEM green card are viable solutions, as long as they are not weighed down with too many restrictions, conditions, and burdensome adjudication procedures.

More Blog Posts:

Technology Entrepreneurs Call for Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, March 5, 2013
Group of U.S. Senators Issues Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Immigration Laws, Promote Employment-Based Immigration, ImmigRantings, February 11, 2013
President’s Inaugural Address Highlights Needs for Reform of Highly-Skilled Immigrant and Work Visa Programs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
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