Scheduled to be voted upon in the Senate on June 5, the high-skilled immigration amendment (S.1249) to the immigration reform bill (S.1348) was sponsored Mar. 24 by a bipartisan group of senators including Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The amendment addresses what technology employers see as multiple shortcomings in the immigration reform bill: the removal of degree equivalency, the limiting of student provisions and the loss of employers ability to choose the foreign workers they would like to recruit.
The amendment proposes the retention of a pool of 140,000 employer-sponsored green cards for foreign professionals seeking permanent residency in the United States, in a "dual green-card system" that would exist in addition to the merit-point green card system suggested in the main bill.
The amendment also recommends restoring H-1B exemptions for foreign workers who have U.S. masters or doctoral-level degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
In addition, the Cantwell-Cornyn amendment would allow foreign workers with "degree equivalency" to work in their fields of interest, instead of limiting them to a specialty that matches their degree.
"We want what Australia has, a dual-track system. The Cantwell amendment offers this. It lifts the caps for foreigners that have studied under STEM, providing them with a green card," Grant Mydland, director of the Technology Workforce Coalition and manager of government relations for CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association), based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., told eWEEK.
The EIA (Electronic Industries Alliance) threw its support behind the amendment June 5. "Innovation drives our economy, and this amendment will strengthen the abilities of U.S. companies to attract the best and brightest," the EIA, based in Arlington, Va., wrote in a statement.
Critics of the H-1B program view this amendment as even more harmful than the immigration bill itself.
"The amendment makes huge expansions of the H-1B program and employer-based green cards, but theyre unwarranted because we dont have a shortage," Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at UC Davis, in California, told eWEEK. "Worse, it also removes one thing that was good about the immigration bill, a provision that an employer couldnt hire an H-1B worker within 180 days of a layoff," he said.
CompTIA and other tech employer advocates had put much of their efforts into the SKIL (Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership) bill in 2006, which addressed these issues to their satisfaction, but never came up in the House after being passed in the Senate.
"While the G8 [Group of Eight] countries are reducing barriers and attracting as many talented individuals as possible to grow their economy, weve been trying to raise ours," Mydland said. "The challenge is that this immigration bill is the train thats out there. But we did not write this bill. This is not a tech coalition bill."
Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify comments from Norman Matloff regarding the Cantwell-Cornyn amendment.