with Aaron Schaffer

Major tech companies are defending a visa program that allows spouses of high skilled immigrants to work inside the United States.

Google led more than two dozen companies and organizations in signing an amicus brief aimed at protecting a key work authorization program that is currently the target of litigation. 

The program, which began under the Obama administration, allows more than 90,000 people to work inside the United States, as long as they’re married to a H-1B visa holder who meets certain criteria. Technology companies widely use H-1B visas to hire workers for specialized jobs, and they argue in their new brief that any change to this program would “be devastating to the affected employees and their families.” In practice, the program has helped the tech industry fill many jobs.

They say as employers they rely on these workers, and any changes to the program could risk an exodus of highly skilled immigrants from the United States to other countries. 

“In all, these individuals contribute immediately to America’s overall economy and the nation’s continued global economic competitiveness,” wrote the companies and organizations, which include Amazon, Microsoft and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The brief highlights the tech industry’s ongoing immigration battles. 

Immigration was one of the most contentious issues between then- President Donald Trump and the tech industry, as he repeatedly acted to restrict high-skilled immigration visas and other programs the tech industry widely uses to bring talent to the United States. President Biden’s swift actions to reverse certain Trump immigration policies were widely welcomed by Silicon Valley. 

But the litigation over the spouse program highlights how Silicon Valley’s immigration priorities could be jeopardized until there is action from Congress. Tech companies also widely support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young undocumented immigrants, which Biden has called on Congress to enact into law. 

The Biden administration earlier this year announced it would not strike down the program for spouses, known as H-4 visa holders. The move highlighted the stark contrast between Trump and Biden’s positions on immigration, as the Trump administration had previously thrown the program into uncertainty by threatening to revoke it. 

A smaller group of businesses last month filed a brief supporting a different case seeking to speed the government's processing of these work permits. 

A group of tech workers brought the challenge to the H-4 work authorization program. 

The tech companies are speaking out as Save Jobs USA, an organization made up of IT workers who claim they lost their jobs to H-1B workers, continues its long-running litigation to challenge the H-4B program. The workers claim the Department of Homeland Security never had the authority to authorize spouses of high-skilled immigrants to work. The lawsuit initially began in 2015, but it was significantly delayed during the Trump administration amid uncertainty about the program’s future. Both parties to the lawsuit have now asked for summary judgement. 

Yet tech companies argue this is not the right time to reverse course on the H-4 program. 

By Google’s estimates, more than 90 percent of H-4 visa holders are women. A Google executive argued in a blog post that lawmakers should take that into consideration, given the negative impact the pandemic has had on women in the workforce. 

“The pandemic has already disproportionately impacted women and ending this program would only make things worse, leading to disrupted careers and lost wages,” Catherine Lacavera, Google vice president of legal, wrote in a blog post. 

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A Senate committee advanced a bill that would boost funding for U.S. antitrust enforcers.

The bipartisan bill would increase funding for the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department by increasing the filing fees for mergers over $1 billion to as much as $2.2 million. There's growing political support in Washington for tougher enforcement of antitrust laws in Silicon Valley. 

“Our competition enforcers don’t have enough resources to effectively take on multibillion-dollar, much less trillion-dollar, companies,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who introduced the bill along with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). “The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division shouldn’t have to fight some of the largest monopolies in history with duct tape and Band-Aids, which is why we need to provide them with more funding.”

The bill would reduce fees for smaller mergers and mark the first update to the fees since 2001.

A facial recognition tool open to the public is raising questions about the future of privacy and surveillance.

PimEyes, which can scan more than 900 million images across the Internet in less than a second with startling accuracy, stands at a new frontier of facial recognition, Drew Harwell reports. Without government rules or oversight, researchers say that sites like PimEyes that enable face searches may multiply.

“What is stopping them? Literally nothing,” said Stephanie Hare, a technology researcher. “The people who put those pictures on the Internet — with their children, their parents, the people who might be vulnerable in their life — were not doing it so they could feed a database that companies could monetize.” 

And there’s no easy way for people to fight back, Hare said: “I can leave my phone at home. What I can’t leave is my face.”

The company says its product has privacy benefits because it allows anyone to search for their own face online. The company sells subscriptions to people who want to find where their photos have been posted or get alerts about new posts. The company says it restricts searches to people uploading photos of themselves, but a simple checkbox is all that stands in the way of that rule getting bypassed. 

Amazon announced a surge in new hires nearly a month after it won a contentious unionization fight.

The company will hire 75,000 new workers and offer some people $1,000 signing bonuses, the Wall Street Journal’s Sebastian Herrera reports. The company said its new hires, which represent 8 percent of the company’s U.S. workers, will have an average pay of $17 an hour.

Amazon said in a statement that the new jobs would be for its “fulfillment and transportation network,” with most open positions in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington and Michigan.

Amazon last month said its first-quarter profits more than tripled since a year earlier. After the company’s unionization win, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the e-commerce giant needed to “do a better job for our employees.” The company announced some raises for employees. 

Rant and rave

Former Amazon executive Jeff Blackburn's return to the company to oversee its media group had some observers scratching their heads. Recode's Peter Kafka:

Heather Redman, a managing partner at Flying Fish Partners:

Amazon Web Services' Mark Twomey:

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Daybook

  • A Senate Commerce Committee panel holds a hearing on protecting children online on May 18 at 10 a.m.
  • Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of NTCA The Rural Broadband Association, testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on infrastructure funding on May 18 at 10 a.m.
  • A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel holds a hearing on vehicle technology on May 18 at 10:30 a.m.

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