Immigration reform is the top priority for
) founder Mark Zuckerberg and much of Silicon Valley where
start-ups and tech giants alike are hampered by their inability to
keep talented foreigners in the United States.
It's a big-time play to more than double the number of H-1B visas,
a major economic change that easily gets overshadowed by the
political debate about border security, the Hispanic vote, and
amnesty for 11 million undocumented workers.
The reforms contained in the bill by the Senate's bipartisan Gang
of Eight have led to optimism among the tech industry's top DC
players. The bill -- which the Senate will pick up after recess
this week -- includes raising the cap on H-1B visas for foreign
workers from 85,000 to as much as 205,000, creating an "Invest"
visa for foreigners who start new companies, and an exemption on
PhDs in mathematics, science, and engineering from the limits on
Immigration tends to be cast as a social justice issue, but this is
really as transformative an economic policy as any of the budget
issues that are a source of division between Republicans and
Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic
Advisers, stressed in a recent speech that the growth in the US
workforce will primarily come from immigrants and their children in
the decades ahead.
Modifying visas and green cards for eggheads and entrepreneurs gets
little public airtime because it's void of much controversy. At a
House Judiciary Committee hearing in February, Rep. Spencer Bachus,
R-Ala., called the amnesty issue "toxic" while saying the failure
to make immigration easier for entrepreneurs "actually has put
Americans out of work."
This month, Zuckerberg unveiled FWD.us, whose backers include heavy
hitters such as
) Bill Gates,
) CEO Marissa Mayer,
) founder Reed Hastings,
) co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist John Doerr.
Last week, a subsidiary of FWD.us called Americans for a
Conservative Action started running TV ads to overcome resistance
by some congressional Republicans. One add features Florida Sen.
Marco Rubio talking about tough border enforcement, while another
tries to insulate Sen. Lindsey Graham from criticism in South
But after talking on-background with top tech players in DC, here
are three things that Silicon Valley is looking for with
Tweak the Restrictions on H-1B Visas:
Raising the cap is only one part of the issue, with tech lobbyists
supporting the intent of the 844-page bill but having concerns
about the nitty-gritty.
For example, the measure tries to protect the jobs of US citizens
by having stipulations about when foreigners can be hired. A
business cannot hire someone with an H1-B visa either 90 days
before or 90 days after letting go an American in a similar job
The trouble is that the job categories might be a bit too broad,
such that a company in theory that lets go an engineer in its
laptop division might not be able to bring on a foreigner in its
tablet division. The presumed benefits from increasing the cap
could be undermined as a result.
This is a delicate sell.
As one tech industry lobbyist noted, this is in deep in the weeds
and opponents to any changes "can just put the bumper sticker out:
A briefing paper issued last week by the progressive Economic
Policy Institute noted that under the Gang of Eight H-1B cap
increase half of all IT jobs requiring a college degree would go to
"What are the consequences of having that much of an occupation
taken up by these temporary workers?" said Ross Eisenbrey, EPI's
executive vice president. "The conclusion is it does lead to lower
salaries. And when salaries are depressed, it leads to US workers
and students being turned off from those fields."
Comprehensive -- Not Piecemeal -- Reforms:
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said
last week that he plans to take any overhaul bit by bit.
The GOP lawmaker plans to begin with an immigration bill for
immigration workers, followed by a proposal to mandate that
employers verify the residency status of potential employees.
Not quite what the tech community has in mind. Zuckerberg's FWD.us
specifically supports "comprehensive" reform.
Why? Because past attempts to rewrite the standards for legal
immigration tend to fail. One former Senate aide compared visas for
start-up founders to a fullback rushing into the end zone. Because
the measure looks so strong, it will get so loaded down with
amendments and pet projects that scoring a touchdown becomes
"Our experience has been that comprehensive has to happen," said
Emily Mendell, spokeswoman for the National Venture Capital
Association. "Individual pieces don't have much of a chance passing
on their own."
Overwhelming Senate Support:
For the Gang of Eight bill to become law, it has to clear a
Republican majority House with some members who are highly
skeptical about any benefits coming from amnesty. Among their
objections is the argument that a pathway to citizenship will
ultimately lead to higher costs for government programs such as
The Senate can't just pass the bill. To break down any resistance
in the lower chamber, it must clear immigration reform with minimal
dissent. This could mean more than 70 "yeas," particularly if 20 of
the 45 Senate Republicans back the measure.
In the most prominent example of bipartisan cooperation this year
-- the fiscal cliff deal that averted a tax hike on 99% of the
country -- the Senate voted 89-8.
Editor's Note: This article by Josh Boak originally appeared on
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