ImmigrationU.S. tech companies actively lobbying for immigration reform

Published 1 May 2013

Last year, only 14 percent of immigrants (around 144,000 people) were granted a green card owing to their skills and contribution to the U.S. economy. The rest of the green cards were given mostly based on family ties of the applicants to U.S. citizens. Under the Senate immigration proposal, 50 percent of future green cars would be based on skills and employment opportunities. Leading U.S. tech companies are actively campaigning in support of the proposal.

Seven technology companies and a software association have been throwing their weight, and money, in support of a  lobbying effort on behalf of immigration reform. Each company has spent more than $1 million  on lobbying efforts since the beginning of the campaign earlier this year.  

USA Todayreports that the combined amount of their contributions  totals $13.8 million. It  is just one part of their effort to help pass  the Senate proposal which would expand the number of temporary visas and green cards given to foreign workers in the technology field.

Facebook’s lobbying efforts have reached $2.45 million during the first three months of 2013

The tech industry “needs a modernized, high-skilled immigration system in order to keep growing … and the Senate bill moves us in the right direction,” Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in an e-mail

In a separate move from the social media Web site’s effort, founder Mark Zuckerberg has teamed up with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google chairman Eric Schmidt to create, a non-profit organization aiming to  build public and congressional support for immigration reform.

That group has launched two subsidiaries —  Americans for a Conservative Direction (ACD) and the Council for American Job Growth (CAJG) —  which will  appeal to conservative, liberal and independent voters.

ACD has been running ads in six states. The ads which show clips of Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) discussing the bi-partisan legislation’s border-security provisions. CAJG meanwhile is running ads praising Senator Mark Begich’s (D-Alaska) economic record. Neither ad mentions immigration.

If the immigration legislation is passed, the technology industry would benefit greatly. Last year only 14 percent of immigrants (around 144,000 people) were granted a green card as a result of employment, according to DHS data. The rest are mostly based on family ties to U.S. citizens. Under the Senate immigration proposal, 50 percent of future green cars would be based on employment.

The bill would also put a stop to allowing U.S. citizens to petition for green cards for their siblings eighteen months after the legislation becomes law. The bill would also increase the number of H1B visas, which typically go to college-educated foreigners who have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“The aim is to remake the immigration system so it has a much clearer economic focus,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), one of the senators who worked on the legislation, said in a statement about the bill’s goals. “Green cards should be viewed as economic engines for the country.”

The tech companies involved in the campaign say  their lobbying efforts have nothing to do with the suspension of the sibling program. The suspension is part of an agreement between the Republicans and Democrats.

“We fully support family immigration to the United States,” Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, a coalition of businesses and universities promoting high-skilled immigration told USA Today. “Many people who started companies in this country came through the family immigration system.”

“We don’t go and talk about ‘what can we take from other people in order to get our provisions in order to get our provisions done?’” Corley added.

Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for immigrants’ rights, said the potential of more high skilled visas has nothing to do with Washington’s sudden interest in immigration reform.

According to Sharry, last year’s presidential election, in which Republican candidate Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, is what is driving the GOP to reach an immigration bill.

“Bill Gates has been coming to Washington for the last decade pounding the table and saying, ‘We need high-skilled visas,’ and he’s been unsuccessful,” Sharry told USA Today. “This is an issue that turns more on votes than on dollars.”