By Alexander Bolton and Jennifer Martinez - 05/21/13 04:03 PM EDT
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) struck a deal Tuesday on visas for high-skilled workers, a major breakthrough for the Senate immigration reform bill.
Now Democrats have a strong chance of reporting it out of committee with a vote of 13 to 5, with three Republican yes votes.
The compromise covers eight amendments sponsored by Hatch to make the process for granting H-1B visas more palatable to high-tech companies.
It largely accepts Hatch amendments number 12 and 13, which were opposed by the AFL-CIO.
The broad bill requires employers filing visa petitions to first offer a job to an “equally qualified” U.S. worker. Hatch’s revised amendment number 12 would impose this requirement only on “H-1B-dependent” companies but clarifies the definition of such companies.
The underlying bill also bars companies from displacing a U.S. worker within 90 days of filing a visa petition for an H-1B worker. Hatch’s amendment number 13 would shield non-H-1B-dependent companies by allowing them to only stipulate that they do not have the intent to displace U.S. workers.
The Schumer-Hatch deal accepts the original intent standard for non-H-1B companies but only for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) positions. For all other professions, there would remain a strict prohibition against displacing workers within 90 days of visa petitions.
The compromise represents a coup for the tech industry, which had been waging a battle behind the scenes to rally support for Hatch's amendments. Tech companies have said the amendments are key to addressing sections of the bill that would make them go through additional regulatory hurdles when hiring foreign workers through the H-1B visa program.
The tech industry uses H-1B visas to hire foreign workers with specialized skills, including computer programmers, engineers and scientists.
While the Gang of Eight's immigration bill addresses the tech industry's call to expand the H-1B visa cap, tech companies argued that the new regulations in the bill would make it more difficult for them to secure the visas they need to fill open technical positions.
The deal has not won backing from labor groups. The nation's largest labor federation said it still opposes Hatch's amendments and they would put American workers at a disadvantage.
"We remain opposed to Hatch’s amendments that would undermine American workers’ access to the jobs of the future," said Jeff Hauser, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO.
Updated at 12:57 p.m.