Tech industry anxious as House readies end game on immigration

Tech observers are anxiously waiting to see what the House's end game will be on high-skilled immigration reform with two separate pieces of legislation expected to be introduced in the coming days. 

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is readying a high-skilled immigration bill that will be the next piece of immigration legislation to be put forward in the House Judiciary Committee, which has already introduced bills on agricultural workers and the e-verify system. 

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are expected to put forward comprehensive immigration legislation in the coming days after reaching a compromise on a proposal. 

With those separate pieces of legislation coming down the pike, tech observers are questioning which piece of legislation the House ultimately plans to put to a vote. 

"The monkey wrench is now you have this bipartisan bill that is going to be out there," a tech lobbyist said. 

House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.) plans to continue his panel's piecemeal approach to tackling immigration reform, a House Judiciary aide said, but "encourages" the bipartisan working group to "keep working towards producing a bill."

"The House Judiciary Committee continues to take a step-by-step approach towards reforming our immigration system and is methodically reviewing each individual issue within the larger debate to make sure we get immigration reform right," the aide said.  

"To date, two stand-alone immigration bills have been introduced and the committee plans to introduce more bills in the coming days.”

A spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio) could not be reached for comment.

In its lobbying efforts on the Hill, the tech industry has made clear that it wants legislation similar to a Senate bill introduced earlier this year by a group of senators led by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah). 

That bill, the Immigration Innovation Act, proposed to significantly increase the H-1B visa cap and free up more green cards for highly skilled workers. 

While members in both chambers and parties support passing high-skilled immigration reform, they have disagreed on how to accomplish it legislatively. 

The high-skilled visa and green card piece is viewed as one of the less controversial subject areas in the immigration debate, relative to border security and a path to citizenship, but it can present its own set of obstacles.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, members disagreed on the best way to allow tech companies to hire foreign talent when marking up the Gang of Eight's immigration bill. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the bipartisan group, argued that a package of amendments on the H-1B section of the bill from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) would loosen protections in the bill for American workers. These protections require employers to attest that they offered technical jobs to American workers first, and requires them to follow new rules when hiring a foreign worker on an H-1B visa.

For example, the current bill says a company must attest that a new H-1B hire did not or will not replace a U.S. worker doing the same type of job 90 days before and after their visa application is filed.

Yet Hatch believes the current H-1B-focused measures in the immigration bill will discourage companies from hiring foreign talent in the U.S. and force them to move those positions abroad. Tech companies rely on H-1B visas to hire foreign workers with specialized skills, such as scientists, engineers and computer programmers.

"You can see the H-1B issues are not simple," Hatch said at this week's markup during a disagreement among Judiciary Committee members on H-1B visas.   

But Issa will have to navigate a different political minefield in the House.  

While most of the debate in the Senate on high-skilled immigration has focused on H-1B visas, the lower chamber has previously fought over the best method to free up more green cards for high-tech workers. 

The fight over Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) STEM Jobs Act, which was backed by Issa, may be a harbinger of what's ahead. 

Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans locked horns over Smith's bill, which would boost the number of green cards available to foreign graduates with advanced technical degrees from U.S universities. 

The measure reallocated 55,000 green cards to those foreign-born graduates by eliminating the diversity visa program, which faced pushback from House Democrats and the Congressional Tri-Caucus. 

Immigrants from African nations and other countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. have come to the country via the visa program. 

Despite the opposition from Democrats, the bill passed the House last November. 

"The easy thing [Issa] could do is take the bill that passed last year, because you know it can get through," a tech lobbyist said.