Facebook tests clout on Capitol Hill in debate over immigration

As a group of senators announces an expansive proposal for immigration reform this week, Facebook is lobbying for a provision that would make it easier for the company to hire foreign workers:

The payoff on the immigration provision could be substantial, allowing Facebook and other technology companies to avoid a requirement that they make a “good-faith” effort to recruit Americans for jobs before hiring from overseas. Facebook could also sidestep proposed rules that would force it to pay much higher wages to many foreign workers. . .

Facebook faces stricter regulations because the company recently surpassed a key legal threshold and is now considered to be “dependent” on H1B visas. The U.S. government classifies companies as dependent when more than 15 percent of their workers hold H1Bs. Facebook said it is “just over” the 15 percent line. (Read the rest of the analysis here.)

More broadly, in addition to allowing Facebook to circumvent that requirement, new legislation could also increase the total number of H1B visas granted annually, as well as creating a new class of visas for foreign entrepreneurs:

The bipartisan group’s proposal would offer up to 10,000 new temporary visas to foreign-born entrepreneurs who create at least five jobs and raise at least $500,000 from angel investors, venture capitalists or other investment groups. In addition, the company must bring in $750,000 in annual revenue.

Studies show that 40 percent of American Fortune 500 firms were started by immigrants, as are roughly half of the most successful start-ups in California’s Silicon Valley. But in recent years, the rate of business formation by foreigners has started to slip, threatening to slow an already-sluggish economic recovery.

The bill includes other provisions as well, including, notably, the possibility of eventual citizenship for some people now in the country illegally:

The bill has several major components, including a 13-year pathway to citizenship — predicated on new border-control measures — for up to 11 million immigrants in the country illegally; new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers; reductions to some categories of family-based visas; and a greater emphasis on employment and education skills. . .

But conservatives are taking aim, arguing that allowing undocumented workers to remain in the country amounts to “amnesty,” that the border-control steps are not strong enough, that the guest-worker program will undercut Americans at a time of high unemployment, and that the bill will amount to trillions of dollars in new federal costs.

Read more about the bill here, and read the bill itself here.

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Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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