Immigration Action Offers Hope for Tech Sector
Friday, January 16, 2015
Hopes for reform that would have afforded any benefits for highly-skilled immigrant workers were quashed when the GOP-controlled House derailed the Senate’s 2014 immigration bill. President Obama’s subsequent announcement that he would take matters into his own hands if Congress couldn’t come to terms on immigration reform rekindled hope in the tech sector that the President’s action would smooth the road for attracting and retain overseas talent. While it may not have gone as far as tech lobbyists would have wished, Obama’s executive action on reform offered a few bright points in some key areas.
On the positive side, the action will authorize certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to qualify for employment authorization – a move that had already been under way prior to the executive action. In his speech announcing the action, President Obama said, “I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.”
The 2014 executive action on immigration included some provisions for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, a group often referred to as DREAMers. Many states have already granted DREAMers access to education, including college. The president’s action allows any child, who was brought to the U.S. prior to 2010, to apply for relief from being deported regardless of their age at the time of application. According to a survey published by Techcrunch.com, tech companies strongly support paving the way for this segment of the immigration population to enter the U.S. workforce.
One area in which additional action is still needed is the cap on H-1B visas — temporary work visas for professionals. In order to raise the H-1B cap, the administration said it needed support from Congress. The current annual limit stands at 65,000, along with an allowance for an additional 20,000 immigrant workers who hold advanced degrees from U.S. schools. This remains woefully insufficient. For the past few years, the number of H-1B petitions submitted on the first day of filing significantly exceeded the quota, resulting in a random lottery being used by the Immigration Service to decide which petitions to accept and which to send back to the petitioner unopened. The tech industry – along with the many immigrants waiting – also suffered from a lack of governmental action toward correcting the now years-long backlog for issuing green cards.
While the administration’s action is certainly a step in the right direction, the tech lobby still has some work to do in Washington.