Aug 3, 2017

Tech pans merit-based immigration bill

Kim Hart, author of Cities


The tech industry came out swinging against Trump's latest push to restrict immigration, denouncing a White House-backed Senate bill that would cut legal immigration — i.e. green cards — in half and move to a merit-based system.

How it works: The bill, known as the RAISE Act, doesn't actually touch temporary employer-sponsored (H-1B) visas that the tech industry cares about most. Instead it would cut back on family visas and and cap permanent residency for refugees in favor of skilled workers that meet certain criteria. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, the sponsors of the legislation, argue this approach will reduce the number of low-skilled immigrants that compete with Americans for low-wage jobs.

Tech vs Trump, again: Favoring skilled workers while leaving H-1B visas alone might seem like a decent deal for the tech industry. But instead, tech sees it as exacerbating the skills shortage while injecting more bureaucratic dysfunction.

"While it's not the end of the world for tech, there's really nothing in the bill for the industry to be enthusiastic about," a Republican adviser to the tech industry told us. "Even though it raises the bar in terms of skills, it doesn't do anything to help temporary visa workers get green cards — and that just perpetuates the current problem for tech firms."

Why tech isn't on board, according to industry sources and statements:

  • Tech has long had an alliance with groups supporting family immgration to avoid the zero-sum game tug-of-war between family-based and high-skilled immigrants. Supporting this bill would throw its allies under the bus.
  • A points-based system would let the government dictate skills parameters and hiring practices. Tech companies want to retain the flexibility they have today to recruit their own workers. Information Technology Industry Council CEO Dean Garfield said it "injects more bureaucratic dysfunction."
  • Without increasing green card availability, temporary H-1B workers will still have no path to citizenship, perpetuating the skills shortage and uncertainty for visa holders.
  • The best talent, including entrepreneurs who might be the CEOs of the next iconic company, may be lost to overseas competitors.
  • TechNet CEO Linda Moore said Congress should instead focus on curbing H-1B abuses and increase numbers of green cards and visas for high-skilled workers.

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