Tech Companies Trying to Keep Immigration Issue on Front Burner


Though much of the public debate over this summer's failed immigration bill has cooled down, it remains a hot-button issue for workers in the high-tech industry, many of whom would like to see the issues regarding highly skilled immigrants like themselves treated separately from broader immigration reform.


A representative of the Programmers' Guild tells SiliconValley.com that the current green card system is not unlike "indentured servitude," with applicants unable to leave the country or seek a raise unless they are willing to restart the lengthy process.


A study produced by researchers at Duke, New York and Harvard universities found that, thanks to a bureaucratic backlog, many applicants must wait seven to 10 years for green cards. There were a half-million immigrant professionals waiting for green cards as of Sept. 30, 2006, plus an additional 555,000 of their family members.


The H-1B visa system is similarly overwhelmed. Immigration officials were forced to stop taking applications after the number filed by businesses on the first day the government accepted them exceeded the cap two times over.


Legislators have seemed eager to put the immigration reform behind them as elections approach. But tech companies and their employees continue to stage protests and otherwise lobby to keep the issue on the front burner.


A possible result of a continued impasse on the issue is companies hiring workers in other countries. Google hired 70 new employees overseas this year when it was unable to obtain visas for them. Microsoft cited immigration problems as one reason it chose to open a new software development facility in Canada earlier this year.


Though high-tech firms have been quite vocal about H-1Bs and other immigration issues, a CIO.com columnist points out that few CIOs appear to want to register an opinion. Maybe it's because the execs have little to gain by stating such opinions, and risk hacking off their employees, vendors and others, she writes.


Tech companies are unhappy with the U.S. Senate's recent approval of a proposed $3,500 fee increase for companies submitting H-1B applications, reports InformationWeek. Ironically, the approval took place on the same day that the European Union announced a plan for a "blue card" that would expedite the immigration process for skilled foreign professionals.


The fee increase must be approved by the House of Representatives before it becomes law. Money from the increase would be earmarked to fund scholarships for U.S. students in computer science, engineering and other areas.