May 21, 2013
(Reuters) – Senate negotiators on Tuesday reached a tentative deal to ease restrictions on U.S. technology firms hiring highly
skilled workers from abroad, potentially a big win for industry as efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year accelerated.
Under the deal struck by Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate would back a looser formula for issuing H-1B visas that technology companies say they need to hire qualified employees.
That formula would replace the one specified in the sweeping bill the committee has been considering since May 9.
In an important boost for the measure, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he will not stand in the way of the measure coming to the floor for a full debate.
“There is a possibility that we can be done today,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Tuesday as he kicked off a fifth day of debate on the nearly 900-page bill.
The measure would create a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, create a new system for determining
the future flow of workers long desired by agriculture as well as industry, and revamp the law governing immigration to the United States for the first time in a generation.
The panel was hurrying to finish debating and amending the bill for two reasons: Senators are hoping to begin a Memorial Day holiday recess this week, and backers of the legislation want it to be ready for debate by the full Senate in early June.
For weeks now, senators on the panel have been in negotiations with each other and with labor union groups and high-tech industry officials over limits imposed for hiring skilled workers from abroad.
Hatch of Utah has fought against some of the constraints that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois had included on behalf of organized labor, which wants to protect American jobs.
Supporters of the immigration bill want Hatch’s vote and were working to accommodate him. With Hatch’s support – in the Judiciary
Committee and on the Senate floor – the measure stands a much better chance of success, according to several congressional aides and immigration reform advocates.
The immigration bill currently requires all companies that hire H-1B employees, not just those that are defined as dependent on the high-skill visas, to advertise job openings on a government website and offer them first to any qualified Americans.
Schumer accepted one of Hatch’s most contentious proposals, strongly opposed by the AFL-CIO labor organization, that requires only “H-1B dependent” companies to give Americans the first shot at jobs.
A dependent company is defined as one with more than 15 percent of its workforce on H-1B visas.
The Hatch-Schumer deal needs approval from the Judiciary Committee, and the entire immigration bill needs to pass the Senate and House of Representatives before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.
Throughout the Judiciary Committee’s debate of the bill, Republicans and Democrats have been striving to show they have overcome the partisan bickering that has bogged down lawmakers for the past two years.
But there was still plenty of time for fights to break out.
Leahy has made clear he wants to amend the bill to give people the right to sponsor same-sex partners who are foreigners for permanent legal status.
Conservatives in Congress, including Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, have warned that the Vermont lawmaker’s amendment would kill the measure.
On Tuesday some gay rights groups feared that Democrats might shy away from the fight.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a gay rights group, feared Democrats “are giving in to bullying.”
Hep! Hep! Horay! This is a good news! Glory to God in the highest!