Working with lobbyists for Compete America, a trade group representing U.S. tech firms, Facebook helped secure a workaround: Any worker in the process of obtaining a green card “shall not be counted” toward the 15 percent threshold.
That means Facebook and other companies could file just enough applications to fall back below the 15 percent line. The language, pulled from a draft copy of the legislation, was reviewed by The Washington Post.
Supporters of the workaround said severe backlogs in the green-card program have left many workers for Facebook and other firms on H1Bs, driving up the companies’ percentage.
“We need to crack down on firms that abuse the H1B system, but some companies’ H1B number is inflated because their employees remain stuck in the backlog,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key architect of the new immigration plan. “It shouldn’t be seen as a company’s fault when the government simply takes too long to process green cards.”
In an op-ed for The Post last week, Zuckerberg questioned why there are not enough H1B visas for immigrants while introducing his new group, FWD.us.
“Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year,” Zuckerberg said, “even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return?”
FWD.us is a separate entity that Facebook says is not connected to the company’s lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a frequent critic of Facebook, said, “The real goal is to put Zuckerberg and Facebook front and center with the Washington elite . . . to better extinguish a growing call to regulate how his company does business.”
Zuckerberg keeps an arm’s-length distance from politics — notwithstanding that FWD.us is being advised by former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
Facebook, founded in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room in 2004, had until recent years maintained only a rudimentary Washington presence. (Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)
Its legislative coup comes as the company increases its political muscle. Its spending on lobbying was nearly $4 million last year — making it among the nation’s top tech lobbyists in 2012. That total was nearly 20 times what the company spent in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
These amounts are almost certain to grow as bipartisan pressure builds for a major federal privacy bill that could put new restrictions on how Facebook and other technology companies collect and use personal data to target advertising to users. The practice is at the core of the company’s business model.
The Federal Trade Commission targeted Facebook in 2011 with a privacy investigation, which was resolved through a settlement.