U.S. technology employers have lobbied legislators for years for an increase in the cap on H-1B temporary worker visas. Yet, just when it seems their wishes were finally answered, they are anything but thrilled. So what gives?
The immigration bill being hammered out right now in the Senate includes a provision to raise the yearly limit on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000, with a built-in escalator which allows for up to 185,000 visas as the market allows.
While tech employers and their advocates would be happy with this provision, they are loath to stand behind a bill that they argue doesnt do enough to compensate for a shortage of skilled workers. Instead, they feel it will make it more difficult to hire qualified technology professionals from overseas, mostly because of a recent amendment passed by the Senate that has the potential to greatly increase the fees employers pay for each H-1B visa petition.
Furthermore, tech employers argue that putting obstacles in the path of U.S. companies who wish to hire foreign workers will only encourage the most competitive foreign talent to go to other countries that put out a more welcoming mat.
"Our criticism is twofold," said Grant Mydland, director of the Technology Workforce Coalition and manager of government relations for CompTIA. "One, this bill disincentives individuals who are leaving their own countries, their own economies to pursue the American Dream and improve our economies. They will think, why would I uproot myself if in the long-term, the visa program is not going to help me? Theyll either stay home, or go to more competitive countries."
Critics also allege that making it more difficult for U.S. tech companies to globally compete will only encourage them to relocate to more business-friendly climates.
"Were a global perspective on technology. We know that multinational companies will invest where they see the most competitive environments. Why would I build my operations in the U.S. if its easier to do it overseas? We dont just lose the jobs and the tax base but the innovation, all while fueling other economies," said Mydland.
Tripling of H-1B fees
Technology employers most recent aggravation with the proposed immigration legislation stems from an amendment passed May 25 by the Senate which has the potential to more than triple the fees employers pay for each H-1B visa petition. Sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), it suggests that fees for H-1B visas are raised from the current $1,500 to $8,500 per H-1B visa to $5,000 per visa.
"Tack on legal fees and youre looking at more than $20,000 per H-1B worker," wrote Greg Siskind, Esq on ILW.com, an immigration law news site.
Tech companies were quick to criticize the amendment, arguing that it would only give companies more incentive to bring their business offshore.
Compete America, a coalition of U.S. tech companies, in response to the Sanders Amendment, wrote: "The Sanders Amendment will accelerate outsourcing and undermine U.S. economic growth. This ill-conceived measure is flatly anticompetitive and is a clear attempt to gut the H-1B visa program and will make it much harder for U.S. businesses to support the Senate bill… American companies should not be penalized for hiring top talent, especially those who are graduates of U.S. universities."
Touchback clauses on new visas
The proposed immigration bill would create two new classes of visas: a Y and a Z visa. The first, a "guest worker" visa, would be valid for two years and renewable up to three times, but only if the worker left the U.S. for a full year before renewing.
Opponents argue that there is no incentive for individuals to leave only to come back, and that this undue complexity just makes it harder for people to qualify, possibly only increasing the number of illegal immigrants in the United States.