Senate group works out immigration compromise with key Republican

From left, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., standing, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, confer as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets on immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2013. A bill to enact dramatic changes to the nation's immigration system and put some 11 million immigrants here illegally on a path to citizenship is facing its first congressional test as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins considering proposed changes to the 844-page legislation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and  Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) confer as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets on immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 9. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Senate negotiators have worked out a compromise agreement to answer concerns from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) over a bipartisan immigration bill, hoping to win support for the legislation from the influential lawmaker.

Hatch has filed several amendments dealing with the section of the comprehensive bill that deals with foreign workers in the high-tech fields of engineering and programming.

As written, the legislation would raise the annual limit of high-tech visas from 65,000 to as many as 180,000, but Hatch has lobbied to eliminate other restrictions on U.S. companies that require them to first offer jobs to Americans before looking overseas.

According to Senate aides familiar with the deal, the compromise would lift the restrictions for all companies except those that depend on foreigners for more than 15 percent of their  workforce. The compromise also would relax the formula for determining the annual number of foreign high-tech workers, though it would not raise the cap above 180,000 per year, aides said.

Hatch has aimed to satisfy an intense lobbying effort from tech companies to make it easier for them to hire foreigners, but labor unions have balked at his amendments because they fear Americans will be disadvantaged.

“The AFL-CIO has been, and continues to be, opposed to Hatch’s amendments undercutting America’s high-tech workers,” union spokesman Jeff Hauser said Tuesday.

The compromise deal was worked out by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the lead Democrat in the eight-member bipartisan group that developed the legislation. Schumer has hoped that winning Hatch’s support for the comprehensive legislation could help pick up more backing from other moderate Republicans when the bill reaches the Senate floor next month.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on elements of the Schumer-Hatch deal Tuesday during its amendment hearing.

This post has been updated.

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