GOP presses ahead on H-1B, green cards with vague, muddy statement

House Republicans will need help from Democrats to win immigration reform

WASHINGTON - Republican leaders on Thursday released a broad framework for immigration reform as difficult to understand, and about as long, as a Dead Sea scroll fragment.

The immigration principles released by GOP House leaders lack detail. The section addressing H-1B visas and green cards, for instance, is just 179 words and wide open to interpretation.

Nonetheless, the principles produced a flurry of "important step forward" reactions from the tech industry. From more critical observers, the consensus was that there was little to take away from it.

The most important thing about the release of the GOP's immigration reform principles is to signal a willingness to work on an immigration bill. But to get something passed, Republicans will need the help of Democrats similar what occurred last year in the Senate.

Although the House principles shed little light on what the Republicans might do, the House Judiciary Committee last year backed legislation to hike the H-1B cap and increase green cards for high-tech workers.

Did House Republican leaders offer anything new about their goals on tech-related immigration in this documents? It's hard to know.

For instance, in a section that covers the H-1B visa, one principle states that "goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country." It then says "of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers."

In reference to the wording about protecting American workers, Russ Harrison, IEEE-USA's senior legislative representative for grassroots activities, said the line seems to be directed at agricultural workers, "although you would think they would apply it to everyone.

"It is hard to say, at this point, if the sentence is an important policy point or just rhetorical cover," said Harrison.

Daniel Costa, an immigration policy analyst at Economic Policy Institute, didn't see anything revolutionary or new in the statement.

Costa, who offered up an in-depth analysis of the principles in a blog post, believes that the Skills Visa Act will be the template for the Republicans.

That measure, approved by the House Judiciary Committee in June, would raise the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 155,000 a year, and double the H-1B visas set aside for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities from 20,000 to 40,000.

The Skills bill also raised the green card cap from 140,000 to 195,000, and included a set-aside of 10,000 green cards under a start-up program for entrepreneurs. It would also overhaul the prevailing wage by replacing the four-wage-level system used to bring workers in at low wages with a new three-wage-level system.

The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), adopted the Skills bill without Democratic support.

There are 232 Republicans and 200 Democrats in The House, with 218 votes needed to pass a bill. But there are at least two dozen Republicans who are against almost any immigration reform whatsoever.

This means the Republicans will have to work with House Democratic leaders on immigration, notably U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who is one the leaders on the broader immigration reforms.

Lofgren, in a statement, said that while the Republican's principles "indicate an interest in reform, it's important to note that principles are very broad statements that do not reveal much detail. Those details matter and I look forward to working across party lines for immigration reform."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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This story, "GOP presses ahead on H-1B, green cards with vague, muddy statement" was originally published by Computerworld.

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