ImmigrationSenate panel reaches compromise on foreign workers

Published 22 May 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee reached a compromise which would make it much easier for American tech companies to hire foreign workers. Most U.S. high-tech companies would not be required to offer tech jobs to Americans before they are able to hire foreign workers. The only companies required to do so are companies which depend on foreign workers for more than 15 percent of their workforce.

The Senate Judiciary Committee late yesterday approved provisions in the immigration bill which reflected key amendments offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who worked hard to make sure that the bill represented the priorities of the U.S. tech industry.

Ensuring Hatch’s support for the bill will go a long way toward securing the vote of many wavering Republican senators.

The Washington Post reports that the changes approved yesterday would remove the requirement from most U.S. high-tech companies to offer jobs to Americans before hiring foreign workers. The only companies required to do so are companies which depend on foreign workers for more than 15 percent of their workforce.

The immigration overhaul legislation already included elements favored by the high-tech industry, such as raising the annual limit of high-tech visas, known as H-1B, from 65,000 to as many as 180,000.

The Post notes that the high-tech amendments were the most substantial changes to the immigration bill over five days of hearings, during which the Judiciary Committee debated dozens of changes offered by lawmakers.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), who was initially uncomfortable with many of Hatch’s proposed changes because, he argued, they would have a negative impact on American workers, joined with Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) to reach a deal with Hatch.

After the deal was reached, Durbin urged Hatch to use his considerable influence in the Republican caucus to garner support for the bill.

“Senator Hatch, we’ve leaned a long way to get your support for immigration reform,” Durbin said. “We’ve made concessions we never thought we’d have to make. We need your support.”

Hatch replied that he plans to support the bill when the committee votes on it in the next few days.

The Judiciary Committee has ten Democrats and eight Republicans. Two of the Republicans are members of the Gang of Eight which drafted the bill, so the bill was assured of twelve votes in support. Hatch’s support would bring the votes in favor to thirteen.

Hatch made a point of noting that he still had several more amendments to the bill which he intends to introduce during the full Senate debate, and said he will withdraw his support if his concerns are not met in those areas.

“I’ve got to get those or we’ll never pass this bill,” he said.

Steve Case, founder of AOL and now chief executive of Revolution, which helps develops tech companies, called the compromise reached at the Judiciary Committee a “major breakthrough” for the immigration bill.

“It will help our country recruit and retain talented entrepreneurs and innovators, thus enabling us to win the global battle for talent,” he told the Post.