Last year, tech companies spent a record $132.5 million on lobbying in Washington, according to the center, placing them among the top lobbying sectors in the Capitol. Over the past decade, the industry has spent well over $1 billion on lobbying, making it the fourth-highest industry spender, according to the center.
The measure that would grant permanent legal status to many master’s or PhD graduates of U.S. universities is another achievement for the industry, which has been trying to increase the number of green cards for high-skilled workers and their families.
The policy would probably add tens of thousands of new green-card holders each year. The numbers could rise if universities see the program as an enticement to help lure more graduate students from overseas.
The foreign-worker piece of the immigration debate has been one of the thorniest for the eight senators, who are trying to reach a full agreement among themselves by Friday. Staffers will then take the next two weeks to draft a bill.
People familiar with the talks said the group has agreed to a citizenship plan that would immediately legalize millions of undocumented immigrants but would require certain expenditures on border security and internal enforcement before allowing people to gain a path to citizenship.
The Washington Post reported last week that the senators are planning to eliminate some categories of family visas to help clear a backlog of 4.3 million applications and to make it easier for some foreign workers to enter the country. Family members could still apply for visas but would need other qualifications, such as work skills and English proficiency, to increase their chances. Senate aides said no decisions have been finalized.
Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) cautioned in a letter Wednesday that the senators should maintain visas reserved for foreign brothers, sisters and married children of U.S. citizens.
“This is very troubling,” they wrote. “Different types of family members can play an important role in each other’s lives, and for some Americans a brother or sister is the only family they have.”
The expansion of the H1B program would follow years of criticism and allegations of abuse. Though it was long viewed as a model program intended to help bring much-needed and highly trained engineers and other professionals to fill gaps in the U.S. workforce, critics have begun to refer to it as the “outsourcing visa.”
These critics say companies commonly use the visa to bring employees from India to work in the United States for up to three years, train them and then return them to India to do the same work, often for a U.S. firm buying the services from a contractor.
A 2011 Government Accountability Office report cited numerous concerns about the H1B program, including the prominent role of outsourcing firms and their potential to crowd out U.S. jobs in software engineering and other professions. It found that 54 percent of H1B workers were hired at the lowest of four wage levels.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-
Iowa), a longtime critic of the H1B program, this week reintroduced legislation he and Durbin have sponsored that seeks to overhaul the program and impose some of the restrictions that Durbin has sought in the negotiating room. The move, coming as word began to spread of the tech industry’s successful lobbying efforts around the immigration talks, suggests that some lawmakers will seek to influence the foreign-worker measures when the bill begins to move through Congress this spring. Such disputes over future immigration flows helped doom past efforts at bipartisan legislation.
David Nakamura and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.
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