Sen. Schumer: Congress won't pass stand-alone high-skill immigration bill

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told an audience of technology lobbyists on Tuesday that Congress would not pass immigration legislation if it only deals with high-skilled workers.
 
"You will not get a bill unless there is a full immigration bill," Schumer said at a Capitol Hill event hosted by the Internet Association, a lobbying group representing Facebook, Google and other Web companies.

"If there's an attempt to try and just pass a bill to deal with high-end, high-tech immigration, guess who will be furious: the Hispanic community," Schumer said.

Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, said he is a strong supporter of provisions to increase the H-1B visa cap for high-skilled foreign workers and allowing foreign graduates with advanced technical degrees to gain permanent residency in the United States.

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Technology companies are lobbying hard for those proposals, saying they are critical for ensuring that U.S. companies stay competitive with foreign rivals. They say there aren't enough qualified U.S. graduates to fill their open positions and that the country shouldn't be turning away talented foreign workers.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) have introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, which focuses only on high-skilled workers. Klobuchar and Coons have said they hope the bill becomes part of broader immigration legislation.

Schumer, who is working with a bipartisan group of senators to craft comprehensive immigration legislation, emphasized that the top political imperative is to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

"So the idea of just pushing your own bill is a very bad idea, and I'm delighted that you understand that," Schumer said.

He told the technology companies that they will be happy with the high-skilled immigration provisions in his comprehensive bill.

"You won't get everything you want, but you will get almost everything you want," Schumer said.

The senior Democrat said he expects to release the legislation by the end of the month and that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has promised to hold a mark-up.

Schumer said he supports raising the H-1B visa cap, but that Congress must stop companies from taking advantage of the program.

"We will have to reform it," Schumer said of the H-1B program. "There are companies, particularly companies from the Indian subcontinent, that take advantage of H-1B."

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have also been critical of the H-1B program, arguing that some employers have abused it to bypass hiring American workers.

Schumer said if the Senate passes comprehensive legislation, the pressure on the House will be so intense, they will have to produce a bill.

Michael Beckerman, CEO and president of the Internet Association, said the technology industry supports whatever vehicle Congress decides to use to increase high-skilled immigration

"It's not for us to decide how the Hill is going to move it," Beckerman told The Hill. "However the Hill is going to do it, we are going to support it. If the HIll is going to do a comprehensive bill and have our pieces that help us, then we're for it."

— This story was updated at 2:36 p.m.