Tech Sector Ambivalent About Reid-Schumer-Menendez Immigration Proposal

High-technology companies depend heavily on the H1B visa program to secure the science, technology, engineering, and math specialists they need to keep their firms on the cutting edge. The stakes are high for these companies, in the ongoing debate over comprehensive immigration reform; they are tracking legislative developments closely, and playing a key behind-the-scenes role in promoting CIR, according to a recent article in the Miami Herald. (See Tech Firms Play Quiet Role in Immigration-Overhaul Push, by Abby Sewell, Medill News Service, Miami Herald, 06.May.2010.)

What do high-tech employers want out of CIR? Judging by the complaints of an Intel official cited in the Miami Herald article, the industry’s CIR wish list probably would include faster green card approval and relaxation of the strict caps on H1B employees who can be admitted each year. The Miami Herald article quotes one Indian tech worker who considered leaving his job in California after waiting seven years for his green card; he thought about moving to Canada, he said, because he could get a green card there in three months.

The new CIR proposal from Democratic Senators Reid (NV), Schumer (NY), and Menendez (NJ) would give H1B employers at least part of what they want. According to the Miami Herald, a coalition of these employers, called Compete America, “favors a provision that would offer green cards to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in specialized fields, but it’s pushing back against provisions that would limit the hiring of H1B workers and increase government scrutiny of companies that sponsor the temporary visas.”

Specifically, the Reid-Schumer-Menendez proposal would make it easier for high-skilled workers to stay in the United States, and it would eliminate the caps on immigrants allowed to come from certain countries – particularly India and China. At the same time the proposal would impose a variety of new burdens on H1B employers, including: (1) revised wage determination requirements, (2) internet job posting and description requirements, (3) heightened U.S. worker displacement protections, (4) subjecting all H1B employers to tighter standards that currently only apply to H1B dependent employers, (5) prohibiting employer advertising that gives priority to H1B nonimmigrants, and (6) limiting the number of H1B or L-1 employees that large employers – those with 50 or more workers in the United States – may hire. Other provisions would give the Department of Labor new authority to investigate fraud and compliance issues among H1B employers, requiring annual audits of companies with large H1B workforces, and increasing penalties for violations. (See Reid-Schumer-Menendez Draft Conceptual Proposal for Immigration Reform, 05.May.2010 posting.)

The Miami Herald article explains that the proposal’s stricter H1B language came from a Durbin-Grassley bill that was designed to “curb abuses” in the H1B system. Senator Durbin told the Miami Herald that, in his view, the H1B program is too easily abused by employers seeking to outsource jobs that Americans could perform. Representatives of the high tech industry beg to differ, and will lobby vigorously to keep the H1B program as user-friendly as possible.

If the Democrats ignore these concerns, they do so at their peril; they will need Republican support to pass CIR, the Miami Herald points out, and measures that come across as anti-business are unlikely to garner much support from the GOP, and may risk defections on the Democratic side as well. Because the H1B program is critically important to Murthy Law Firm clients, and to the U.S. economy as a whole, we will continue to follow these developments closely, and keep our readers informed.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.