By JESSICA MEYERS and MICHELLE QUINN | 3/20/13 4:31 AM EDT
As tech companies entreat Washington to back high-skilled immigration, one influential senator is slinging arrows at their side.
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley sounded his war cry this week with the reintroduction of a bill that tightens restrictions on a controversial temporary worker visa program. The move comes as Senate negotiators prepare to unveil plans for an immigration overhaul likely to increase those visas.
Amid the fray, the bill serves to remind the tech industry and fellow lawmakers of the system’s perceived holes.
“I just want to make sure people know that I haven’t changed my mind,” Grassley (R-Iowa), who introduced the legislation in previous sessions, told POLITICO.
Tech groups fear such fanfare will affect Senate debate on skilled immigration proposals. Gang of Eight negotiator Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), after all, co-sponsored a mirror image of the bill two sessions ago.
Durbin did not sign on this time because of his negotiating role, a staffer said. But he will “strongly support” the bill, which restructures temporary work visa programs by boosting enforcement, altering wage requirements and attempting to prioritize American workers.
Peter Muller, director of government relations for Intel, said the company still found it “encouraging Sen. Durbin is working on the Gang of Eight process, which is the best way to get something done.”
Bill backers have long argued that temporary work visas, known as H-1Bs, lead to wage discrimination and snatch jobs from American workers. Numerous tech trade groups, who have taken to the Hill this week to make vocal appeals, contend the H-1B visa program brings essential high-tech talent to the United States and maintains the country’s global competitiveness.
The Grassley bill does not address the H-1B visa cap, which is set at 65,000 plus an additional 20,000 for those with advanced degrees. But it does ensure a more rigorous set of checks and balances, such as a higher wage threshold and requirements that companies try to hire Americans first.
The issue within the tech industry is whether increasing impediments to the program kills it.
“There’s no question we’re open to considering ways to better and more effectively ensure the H-1B visa program does not undermine American workers in terms of one: access to jobs; and two: wages,” said Robert Hoffman, senior vice president of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council.
“Will the net result of this legislation be that jobs leave the United States? We are concerned there are provisions in the bill that could have that effect.”
Those concerned with the system see the bill as a flag-waver for the Senate’s ongoing talks.
“It goes a long way to really addressing the major problems,” said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology who has pushed for H-1B changes. “If we’re going to have an employer-driven system, we need to have safeguards to ensure it doesn’t spin out of control.”
The bill doubles the fine for misrepresentation, meaning some violations could reach $10,000. It also requires more paperwork verification and addresses the oft-ignored L-1 visas, which international companies make use of for specialized workers. That visa has no cap.
When releasing his bill, Grassley pointed to a 2008 Citizenship and Immigration Services assessment showing an H-1B violation rate of more than 20 percent, a GAO report in 2011 mentioning insufficient controls and 2012 data revealing that Indian offshoring companies make up the bulk of visa users.
Senators heard another facet of the issue Monday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Speakers testified that the H-1B visa program discriminates against women.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/grassley-renews-push-for-stiffer-h-1b-visa-rules-89099.html#ixzz2O5UBhdFp
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