OVERNIGHT TECH: Tech companies line up to support high-skilled immigration bill

THE LEDE: Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, IBM and a score of major trade associations that represent tech companies in Washington threw their support behind a high-skilled immigration bill introduced on Tuesday.

Tech companies have lobbied Congress for years to update the existing immigration rules to make it easier for them to hire talented foreign workers and graduates with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering fields from U.S. universities. Tech companies have argued that they struggle to fill positions for research and engineering jobs because most applicants don't have the requisite skills for these positions.

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The bill introduced on Tuesday — the Immigration Innovation Act, or I-Squared for short — proposes to increase the cap for H-1B temporary worker visas and make more green cards available to foreign-born graduates with advanced technical degrees from American universities.

In statements of support for the bill, tech companies said it will help address the roadblocks they face when hiring talented foreign workers and so-called STEM graduates.

"There is no denying the skills gap that threatens the expansion and competitiveness of a sector that has been a tremendous engine of innovation, economic growth and job creation in America — the Immigration Innovation Act addresses this gap," said Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president of U.S. public policy, in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our work with lawmakers to effectively tackle this problem."

The bill would also increase the fees that employers pay to petition for H-1B visas and green cards. That additional money would be funneled to a grant program dedicated to promoting STEM education and training programs.

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Peter Muller, director of government relations for Intel, said in a blog post that the bill "acknowledges that while we must make it easier for employers to hire the workers they need today, we must also dedicate the resources to train the skilled workforce we will need tomorrow."

He noted that passing comprehensive immigration reform this year will be a complex and lengthy effort, but said Congress appears ready to tackle the challenge.

"The current focus on immigration reform presents the best opportunity we have seen in years to make needed fixes to the employment side of the immigration equation and the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 is an excellent start," Muller said.

Klobuchar in talks with Schumer about high-skilled reform: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she's talked with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the leaders of an effort to draft comprehensive immigration reforms, about including the I-Squared measure in the larger immigration bill.

"We actually talked a number of times over the weekend and that is the plan," Klobuchar said.

While the bill may not be included word for word in the larger measure, Klobuchar said she expects that main parts of the bill will be included.

"I really see it as complementary and not at all at odds with the process. When you do these bills and get the language out there, it gets the ball rolling and that's what we wanted to do," she said.

The next step is for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on issue, the Minnesota Democrat added. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he plans to hold a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform on Feb. 13.

"My guess is we will do a number of hearings on immigration reform and I would think [high-skilled immigration reform] would be one of the topics, but the end result would be to try to get it as part of the comprehensive bill," said Klobuchar, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Former FCC official heads to Tribune:
Edward Lazarus, the former chief of staff to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski, has been named the executive vice president and general counsel of Tribune Co.

“Eddie has an incredibly sharp mind, broad legal experience, and he played an important role at the FCC,” Tribune CEO Peter Liguori said in a statement. “He is the perfect fit as our general counsel and will be a tremendous asset to the company and its media businesses.”

But advocacy group Free Press said Lazarus's new role raised questions about the FCC's plan to relax media ownership regulations.

"Maybe this job for one of Julius Genachowski's closest advisers explains why the FCC Chairman is so eager to trash the few remaining media ownership limits, going against the positions of President Obama, more than 60 members of Congress, the federal court of appeals, and millions of Americans," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron in a statement.

Obama calls for high-skilled reforms in immigration plan: The immigration reform proposal unveiled by President Obama on Tuesday included broad measures that are aimed at attracting skilled foreign entrepreneurs to the United States and allowing graduate students with advanced technical degrees to stay in the country.

Some of the principles in Obama's plan mirror high-skilled immigration legislation being discussed in the Senate, which could boost those bills' chances of being included in comprehensive immigration reform. 

Senators introduce immigration reform to increase STEM visas: A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would “modernize” the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) visa system.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, which would increase the number of STEM visas and use the fees obtained from those visa applications to fund STEM education programs within the United States.

“Legal immigration is good for this country,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And the legal immigration system that we have in place does not work for America in the 21st century.”

Disney CEO rips 'ill-informed' Markey over 'MagicBands' criticism: Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger sent a scathing letter to Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday after the lawmaker questioned Disney's plans to roll out a new technology used to track guests at its theme parks, calling Markey's concerns “ludicrous and utterly ill-informed.”

Markey, the co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus and the Democratic front-runner to succeed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), told Iger in a letter this month that he feared Disney's new “MagicBands” bracelets could “have a harmful impact on our children.”


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