Senate Judiciary panel wraps up debate on H-1B visa measures

Earlier in the day, Hatch said he wanted to hold off on calling up his amendments so he could attempt to find a compromise on them with the other Judiciary committee members and Gang of Eight.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Gang of Eight, agreed to working with Hatch to find a compromise on his amendments.

Tech companies have been lobbying aggressively for the committee to adopt this set of amendments, which they say are key to modernizing the visa program so companies can make better use of it.

For example, one of Hatch's amendments would allow the H-1B visa cap to rise according to a market-based mechanism that weighs the market demand for those temporary worker visas during a given year.

Members of the Gang of Eight are looking to find common ground on Hatch's amendments that would make Judiciary Committee members comfortable with them, an industry source said.

During the markup, the Judiciary panel voted down a set of amendments offered by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Committee members rejected two of Grassley's amendments that were strongly opposed by the tech industry.

One of Grassley's amendments proposed to strike a provision that would allow tech companies to count an H-1B worker toward their U.S. workforce total if they have applied for a green card for the worker. The total U.S. workforce number is significant for tech companies because it determines whether they are considered an H-1B dependent company, and therefore subject to significantly more regulations when applying for temporary worker visas.

The committee also voted down an amendment by Grassley that would require companies to attest that they made a good faith effort to hire American workers for an open position before looking for a foreign worker to fill the job.

"Some employers don't like this provision. They say they already make every effort to hire an American—well, then they shouldn't have a problem with this amendment," Grassley said.

"Why shouldn't we require companies to look at home for Americans before we import workers? It seems very commonsense," he added.

When voicing opposition to the amendment, Schumer argued that "one regulator's good faith is another's bad faith" and the term could be "interpreted ten different ways" to prevent companies from filling a technical job position when they can't find an American worker for the role.

Some members said they voted against the amendment to preserve the deal struck by the Gang of Eight on the bill.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) voted against the amendment but said they were open to working with Grassley on tweaking it before the bill reaches the floor.

"You see me voting no, but Sen. Grassley, see me as someone who will be willing to work with you," Whitehouse said.

He added that the amendment was described as a "dealbreaker" to the agreement struck between the Gang of Eight on the bill.

Hatch also said Grassley's "good faith" amendment could unravel the Gang of Eight's agreement.

"You can see the H-1B issues are not simple," he said. "There are ways of writing this that can take care of this problem."

The committee also voted down an amendment by Cruz that proposed to increase the annual H-1B visa cap to 325,000 from the existing cap of 65,000. Some committee members said they agreed with the aim of the amendment, but didn't want to throw off the balance secured by the sponsors in the sweeping immigration bill.

"This was a tough negotiation to try to get the numbers as high as we could while still respecting other areas of the agreement as well, so I'll have to relunctantly oppose the amendment," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Gang of Eight.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a critic of the H-1B program and member of the Gang of Eight, said the measure would "eliminate many of the protections built into this bill for American workers."

"That, to me, is the wrong way to go," Durbin said.