As the Senate begins debating a bipartisan immigration bill this week, a coalition of technology firms and larger special interest groups is launching a new way for people to directly contact lawmakers as the debate continues.
Engine Advocacy, a coalition of tech firms including Google, Firefox and Yelp and smaller firms like the online ride-share firm Uber and CoffeeHouseCoders -- a social network for hackers -- is launching "Keep Us Here," a site designed to help people directly contact lawmakers through e-mail, Twitter and phone calls. By visiting the site, KeepUsHere.org, people can insert their home state, ZIP code and telephone number and will receive reminders to contact lawmakers as the debate moves through the Senate and House.
Mike McGeary, Engine's chief strategist, said the group decided to launch Keep Us Here after hearing for years from tech firms concerned about how the nation's outdated immigration laws were affecting their ability to do business.
"When you talk to [tech companies], as we have for the last couple of years, if we were to make a list of the top five issues that are important, the first four would be immigration back-to-back," McGeary said. "It’s that level of importance to this community, because it affects our friends, our co-workers, our ability to grow. So we developed Keep Us Here as an opportunity to give these entrepreneurs a platform and to build a coalition to talk about the virtue of making reform to the high-skill, high-tech sector of our immigration, but largely to build an immigration system that works at all levels."
The project is backed by an array of corporations and corporate and conservative interest groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association; the Partnership for a New American Economy, a project launched by New York Mayor Michael I. Bloomberg; the company Revolution founded by AOL founder Steve Case; and Americans for Tax Reform, the group founded by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
It also has the support of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a former tech executive, who is encouraging constituents to use Keep Us Here to reach out to Congress.
Case said in a statement that his company is joining the project because “Immigration reform is key to keeping talented people here in our country to start new companies, in turn leading to economic growth and job creation. This issue has direct domestic economic impacts, and will also help to keep us competitive in the global arena.”
Jeremy Robbins, with the Partnership for the New American Economy, said Bloomberg and other members of the group are backing Keep Us Here because "we believe it’s an important way to highlight how immigration directly impacts the economy, directly impacts job creation."
Considering the group's makeup, it should be no surprise that member firms are most eager to see the new immigration bill expand the number of visas distributed annually to high-tech workers.
The bill under consideration in the Senate would raise the annual limit of high-tech visas, known as H-1B, from 65,000 to as many as 180,000. But some Republican senators are lobbying to eliminate other restrictions on U.S. companies seeking to hire engineers and programmers from abroad.
Changes made to the bill before it was referred to the full Senate lift the requirement that companies first offer tech jobs to Americans for all firms except those that depend on foreigners for more than 15 percent of their workforce and relaxes the formula for determining the annual number of foreign high-tech workers.
Keep Us Here's leaders hope to generate enough interest in the coming days ahead of the group's first national day of action scheduled for June 18, when it will ask participants to make calls to congressional offices.
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