The sweeping immigration bill currently being debated in the Senate has won the backing of President Bush. But he appears to be one of the few fans of the bipartisan proposal.
It is being bashed by folks all over the political spectrum and, somewhat surprisingly, by companies that employ high-tech professionals.
The Senate bill would, after all, increase the annual H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000, with room to expand to 180,000, a move long called for by tech companies. Yet such companies have found plenty to dislike, as reported in this InformationWeek article.
Though a key exemption for foreign students who earn advanced degrees from U.S. universities was included in an immigration bill approved by the Senate last year -- and in the Lieberman-Hagel bill -- it is conspicuously lacking from the current proposal. And those students are exactly the kinds of employees they want to recruit, say Microsoft, Oracle and other tech companies.
The Senate bill also proposes a merit-based system for green cards. While this would seem to appeal to high-tech companies, whose employees often end up mired in bureaucratic muck on a road to citizenship, the proposed process would not allow businesses to sponsor specific candidates for green cards -- and would thus make it tough for them to make informed hiring decisions, say companies. Other countries with merit-based immigration systems, such as Australia, also factor employer sponsorship into their decisions.
The bill would more broadly impose certain restrictions that currently only apply to companies classified as "H-1B dependent," those with workforces comprised of 15 percent or more H-1B visa holders. Jack Krumholtz, managing director of federal government affairs, insists that this would unfairly put his company in the same category as Indian outsourcing firms and other suspected abusers of the H-1B program.
(Interestingly, Microsoft does not divulge how many of its U.S. employees hold H-1Bs. One of the most shocking things about the H-1B program is how little anyone appears to know about it. As an SFGate.com article points out, the federal agency charged with overseeing the program, Citizenship and Immigration Services, does not know how many H-1B visa holders currently work in the U.S. or how many of them apply for green cards.)
Other restrictions bugging the IT industry include requirements that companies prove H-1B applicants have degrees that specifically match a job and that no American worker was displaced in the six months prior to or following an H-1B visa holder's hiring. And the fees for both H-1B and green card applications would rise as well.