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Tech firms take lead in lobbying on immigration

Eric Lipton and Somini Sengupta (via NYT/ AFR) | May 6, 2013
The television advertisement that hit the air waves in Florida last month featured the Republican Party's rising star, Senator Marco Rubio, boasting about his get tough plan for border security.



Companies like Facebook and Intel use them largely to bring workers to their own offices. Consulting companies like Tata, based in India, use them to supply computer workers at American banks, oil companies and sometimes software firms.

Critics of H-1B visas point out that they mostly bring workers at the lowest pay scales. The technology industry's main rivals in these negotiations were lawmakers who have long been critical of guest worker visa programs, chiefly Senator Richard Durbin, and groups that represent American engineers.

Silicon Valley lobbyists told Senate negotiators they agreed that the H1-B visa system had been subject to abuse. Go after the companies that take advantage of guest worker visas and give us the benefit of the doubt, they told the Senate staff members, according to interviews with several lobbyists.

"You know and we know there are some bad people in this system," is how Scott Corley, the president of Compete America, a technology industry coalition, recalled the conversation. "We are simply trying to make sure that as they are pursuing the rats they are not sinking the ship."

That acknowledgment, several lobbyists said privately, helped unlock an impasse in negotiations.



What emerged was a Senate measure that allows American technology companies to procure many more skilled guest worker visas, raising the limit to 110,000 a year from 65,000 under current law, along with a provision to expand it further based on market demand. The bill would also allow these companies to move workers on guest visas more easily to permanent resident visas, freeing up more temporary visas for these companies.

But it requires them to pay higher wages for guest workers and to post job openings on a website, so Americans can have a chance at them. And it draws a line in the sand between these technology firms and the mostly Indian companies that supply computer workers on H-1B visas for short-term jobs at companies in the United States.

"This provision accomplishes the goal of discouraging abuse of the program while providing an important incentive for companies to bring top talent to work in the United States for the long term, where they will contribute to our economy," said Kaplan, the former Republican White House aide who is now the vice president for US public policy at Facebook.

The bill is written in such a way that it penalises companies that have a large share of foreign guest workers among their US workforces, eventually making it impossible for them to bring in any more. It allows large American companies that have many more American workers to continue to import workers. And it includes a provision that exempts from the guest worker count those employees that companies sponsor for green cards, essentially a bonus to American businesses like Facebook whose workforces are growing fast.


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