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How the next president will change the H-1B visa

Patrick Thibodeau | March 4, 2016
What’s ahead for skilled visa workers in the presidential contest

What if Rubio wins the presidency?

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is aligned with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is the tech industry's chief Senate advocate for increasing the H-1B visa cap.

But Florida is ground zero for some of the most visible H-1B-related layoffs, with the Disney just the latest. Rubio's pro-industry views may be tested here.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), has been troubled by the Disney layoffs, but Rubio apparently has not been.

If Rubio can win in Florida, it may be proof that the H-1B issue is too niche and a non-factor in a national contest. The next two weeks may determine whether this issue has legs in the national debate.

What if Cruz wins the presidency?

Sen. Ted Cruz is co-sponsoring H-1B reform legislation with Sen. Sessions. His bill attacks H-1B usage by raising the wages of visa workers. It also includes a prohibition on non-disparagement clauses that keep IT workers from talking publicly about their experiences.

If Cruz raises the H-1B issue at all in his campaign, it ought to be in Florida.

Rubio has tried to offset Cruz's H-1B reform legislation by ignoring the Sessions/Cruz bill and pointing out, instead, that in 2013, Cruz supported a substantial hike in the H-1B visa cap. Rubio is a sponsor of Hatch's Immigration Innovation Act, also called the I-Squared Act, which would raise the annual base H-1B cap to between 115,000 and 195,000 visas. (The current annual base H-1B cap is 65,000.)

As president, Cruz would work with Sessions and other H-1B reformers. He might attack the OPT program as well, using his executive powers.

What impact is the presidential contest having on the H-1B issue?

One clear impact is being felt by Nasscom, India's IT trade group. It is stepping up defense of the offshore industry model.

R. Chandrashekhar, the industry group's president, argues that the use of IT services firms is about improving and modernizing IT operations at clients' businesses. The visa workers aren't there to simply replace the U.S. workers, but to modernize IT operations, he argues.

"It's certainly not with the intention of just getting in a set of people to replace an existing set of people and continue to do things in the same manner," said Chandrashekhar, in an interview. "That doesn't make for a good business case in any sense."

What Chandrashekhar doesn't want is for India to be singled out by lawmakers.

Many of the reform proposals attack the wages paid to H-1B workers. If visa wages rise, the economics of offshoring decisions change, argue reform proponents.

Whatever is done by lawmakers regarding the H-1B visa, "it should be applied uniformly to everybody," said Chandrashekhar. That means any reforms apply to U.S. outsourcers as well as to overseas firms.


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