Tech cranks up pressure on Obama for immigration order

The tech industry is dialing up the pressure on President Obama over immigration, arguing moves to free up more work visas should be among his executive actions.

TechNet, which counts many Silicon Valley companies as members, said it respected Obama’s decision to delay the immigration moves until after the election, but said the time for action has come.

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"We will be engaging in this, yes, in the next couple of months," TechNet's chief executive Linda Moore said. "They know the kinds of things that we would like to see done. And we will definitely reengage on that.”

Tech lobbyists said their main focus remains an expansion of deferred action for millions of people who are in the United Sates illegally. But barring legislation, they say there are a number of steps Obama could take that would be beneficial for the economy.

FWD.us — the lobby group cofounded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg — called on supporters this week to share their stories and contact members of Congress to urge reform.

"In addition to what the president should do to help the undocumented community — because there are millions of families who are living every day in fear of being separated — but in addition to that, we think there are things that can help spur job creation in the country," FWD.us president Todd Shulte said. 

Many tech groups pitched their ideas for executive action to the White House in August, before the delay.

One idea floated by the industry would "recapture" and issue unused green card numbers that expired from previous years, potentially freeing up 200,000. Another would allow people who have been approved for a green card to apply to work even when there is a wait for their visa number.  

Some advocates have pushed Obama to specify that spouses or children should not be counted against the yearly cap on employment-based green cards. The cap currently stands at 140,000, but takes into account a person's children and spouse. 

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents a district with a heavy tech presence, said the president should consider "parole" that would allow some immigrants into the country if it is determined to be in the national interest. A case could be made, Lofgren said, that entrepreneurs or cutting-edge researchers could be included in that. 

"I believe that the president is going to do something that is helpful for the economy, and that includes the tech sector," Lofgren told The Hill, saying she hopes her various recommendations to Obama have been valuable. 

Tech groups view some options as more attractive than others. FWD.us, for example, has supported changing the way the visa cap is tallied, but is less convinced it will be included in Obama's announcement. Similarly, Lofgren said she has not seen anything legally persuasive on changing the cap without Congress.

And any broader increase in the number of high-tech visas — known as H-1B visas — would likely have to be passed by Congress, similar to a proposal included in the Senate's comprehensive bill last year. 

The debate over Obama's executive action has focused mostly on delaying deportations and granting work visas to millions of individuals who came to the country illegally — an expansion of a program started in 2012.

Republicans have warned against administrative action, with Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) saying Thursday it would "poison the well” for broader reform.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSuspended Alabama judge running for Senate Trump and Sessions peddle fear instead of solutions to crime Senate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general MORE (R-Ala.) has said all the immigration proposals being debated will lead to higher unemployment. His office warned that the tech companies are just looking for cheaper labor.  

“The executive actions FWD.us is lobbying for — work permits for illegal immigrants and the importation of more foreign guest workers for IT corporations — will ensure the following for American workers: higher unemployment and lower wages,” Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller said. 

Obama has vowed to act on immigration by the end of the year. He has also recently hinted at policy changes aimed at the technology community. 

At a town hall in October, Obama said, barring congressional action, he would "use all the executive authority that I legally have in order to make fixes in some of the system, and that includes potentially making the H-1B system that is often used by tech companies" more efficient.

Advocates have continued to call for broader legislative action as well. 

"We are hopeful that the president will use his executive order to help our economy by including meaningful reform of the high-skilled visa crisis," said Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, which represents a number tech giants, including Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook and many more.