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US election could mean movement on high-skill immigration, copyright

Expect debates on cybersecurity, spectrum and privacy in Congress in 2013

By , IDG News Service
November 07, 2012 02:25 PM ET
President Obama

IDG News Service - Tuesday's election in the U.S. leaves President Barack Obama in the White House and maintains the balance of power in Congress. In many longstanding technology debates, policy experts see little movement forward, although lawmakers may look for compromises on a handful of issues.

U.S. voters on Tuesday again elected a divided Congress with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Democrats the majority in the Senate. Obama and some members of Congress may push for immigration reform, including an expansion of high-skill immigration programs, and expect some lawmakers to push for online copyright enforcement provisions, although likely to be different than the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) that failed to pass earlier this year.

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But tech-savvy voters should expect a whole lot of nothing on several other issues. "If people vote for the status quo they shouldn't be surprised if they get it," Thomas Lenard, president of free-market think tank the Technology Policy Institute (TPI), said in an email. "Only thing that has changed is that Obama doesn't have to run for re-election.A Whether that means he'll move toward the center, I don't know."

Here are some tech-related issues to watch out for in coming months:

Immigration: Several large tech companies, including Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard, have called for an expansion of the H-1B high-skill visa program and a loosening of restrictions on L-1 visas, used for intra-company transfers of employees from foreign offices to the U.S. Microsoft, in September, advocated new US$10,000 H-1B visas, with additional funds used for new education programs.

Immigration reform, addressing both high-skill and illegal immigration, may be an area where the Obama administration and Congress can find compromise, some tech policy experts said. Immigration reform should be among Obama's top policy priorities in 2013, said Kevin Richards, senior vice president for federal government affairs at TechAmerica, a trade group.

After the budget deficit, "I think that immigration reform is the new big-ticket issue for the president," Richards said.

Still, lawmakers have been reluctant to deal with high-skill immigration separate from illegal immigration, and illegal immigration remains a difficult, hot-button issue in Congress. While Congress may move forward on high-skill immigration, the "status quo in the White House could worsen prospects, Arlene Holen, a senior fellow at TPI, said in an email. "Despite claiming the importance of high-skilled immigration, they have been making it much harder administratively to get visas."

Copyright enforcement: Huge online protests in late 2011 and early this year sunk SOPA and PIPA, but expect the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other backers of stronger copyright enforcement to push for revamped legislation in 2013.

Those groups will likely advocate for lite versions of SOPA or PIPA in an effort to paint opponents of the bills as out of the mainstream, predicted Gigi Sohn, president of digital rights group Public Knowledge and a vocal opponent of SOPA and PIPA. But after millions of Internet users spoke out against SOPA and PIPA, there will also be a "push on the other side" to roll back some past copyright protections that critics see as excessive, she said.

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