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A victorious GOP would shape the Senate's H-1B debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Nov. 4, 2014
Five points to consider if Republicans wind up in complete charge of Congress after the midterms.

If the Republicans win the Senate on Tuesday, the power shift will affect the nation's on-going H-1B visa debate.

The program's strongest critic, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), would become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, putting him in a powerful position to shape legislation. But Grassley's power isn't absolute and he faces powerful foes. In Congress, divisions among Republicans over the H-1B visa run deep.

One: Republicans will still be fighting among themselves over H-1B policy
As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley will head a committee that controls immigration legislation in the Senate, dictating what bills are taken up, when and in what form they take. That's real power.

Grassley believes that H-1B visas are being used to replace U.S. workers and reduce wages, and he has sought curbs.

On other side of the spectrum is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who heads the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force. Hatch is completely committed to raising the H-1B visa cap and with the fewest number of restrictions possible.

Hatch is the Senate's primary advocate for the IT industry; just last month, he said, "Our high-skilled worker shortage has become a crisis," and pointed to strong demand for H-1B visas. There were 172,500 petitions for the 85,000 visas available this year. (That view ignores arguments that H-1B demand is not an indication of labor demand.)

Hatch also has real power to assemble votes. Here's an example: When the Judiciary Committee last year was taking up the bipartisan immigration bill, Hatch introduced a series of amendments supported by the high-tech industry to modify it.

The Senate immigration bill included a provision requiring employers to first offer a job to an "equally qualified" U.S. worker before taking on a foreign worker. Hatch threatened to scuttle Republican support for the immigration bill unless the equally qualified provision was removed.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the immigration bill fight on the Judiciary Committee, allowed the Hatch amendments to go through -- and the Senate passed a comprehensive bill. But the House of Representatives never took up the measure.

Will Grassley, as chairman, be in a stronger position to fend off the tech industry and fight Hatch? Grassley called the comprehensive bill a "stinky onion." He might be tougher than Schumer.

Two: H-1B support or opposition doesn't follow Tea Party lines
Something to keep in mind about the Republicans is that they can be very weird about the H-1B visa.

Former U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), at the time the U.S. House majority leader and an H-1B supporter, lost a primary challenge in June to David Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College with a Ph.D. in economics. Brat, identified with the Tea Party, has called the H-1B visa "high-skilled cheap labor."


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