Tech industry cheers new immigration regs


Leaders of top technology companies applauded the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday for announcing new regulations that would allow the husbands and wives of foreign workers to get jobs in the United States.

The draft regulations would help the families of people who are working in the country on high-skilled visas, tech leaders said, and keep top talent in the U.S.

“By sensibly improving these rules, we can help ensure that the most talented foreign innovators conduct their break-through research right here at home,” said Bruce Mehlman, head of the Technology CEO Council, which represents leaders of Intel, IBM and other tech companies.

Currently, foreign scientists, engineers or computer programmers can come and work in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. Their husbands and wives, however, are stuck with an H-4 visa, which allows them to stay in the U.S. but prevents them from working.

“These factors cause America to lose valuable talent when a green card candidate — many of whom were educated at American universities — to abandon their quest for citizenship and seek employment in countries that compete with the Untied States,” said Linda Moore, president of the TechNet trade group, which counts Apple, Microsoft and AT&T among its members.  

Under one of the rules proposed by the DHS on Tuesday, immigrants' spouses would be able to get a job in the country as long as the person with the H-1B visa has started the process of obtaining a green card. Another proposal would ease restrictions for skilled workers from Chile, Singapore and Australia, among other countries.

Tech companies are big beneficiaries of the H-1B visa program, but many say that the broader immigration system is broken and badly in need of reform.

While supporting the new DHS rules, Moore said that they were "no substitute for comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform that addresses not only high-skilled workers, but the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.”

Microsoft Vice President Fred Humphries called the changes “thoughtful” and “common sense,” and said they would “improve American competitiveness for the best talent in the world.”

The sentiment was echoed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents a portion of Silicon Valley.

She “oftentimes” meets the husband or wife of a tech company engineer, she said in a statement, “who is also educated but not allowed to fully contribute his or her talents, which sometimes leads the couple to leave the U.S. altogether.”

What’s really needed, she said, is a thorough legislative overhaul of the immigration system.
“I think the administration can continue to investigate ways to make improvements, but ultimately, Congress must pass top–to–bottom immigration reform if we are going to fix our country’s broken immigration system,” Lofgren said.
Some critics of immigration reform have said that tech firms use the visa program to offshore jobs out of the country.
A report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute last year found that the top 10 recipients of the visas in 2012 “were all in the business of outsources and offshoring high-tech American jobs.”

“Far from keeping top talent in the U.S., the administration is working to put more talented Americans out of work,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Session (R-Ala.), who opposed the new DHS action. “Meanwhile, the administration continues to look the other way as companies use the guest worker visas to facilitate offshoring, laying off U.S. workers and tasking guest workers with coordinating offshoring centers.”