Mobile app developers blanket Capitol Hill to press for immigration reform

The aim of the fly-in trip is to help lawmakers understand the hurdles that small, up-and-coming mobile app companies face when trying to hire foreign workers equipped with the technical skills they need to expand their businesses and secure contracts with larger companies.

"They need the right, one person that changes their environment, and beyond that, they need more of the right people so they can take [on] those risk takers and have a better opportunity to compete with the big companies that offer more job opportunities, but with less upside," Reed said.

When hiring workers for new projects and initiatives, Reed said that app companies have a smaller pool of talent to choose from than established tech giants because some job candidates may not want to deal with the risk that comes with working for a startup that may or may not grow to be a success.

For this reason, Reed said ACT's member companies have struggled to recruit and hire American workers with the requisite technical skills needed to fill their open positions, and have had to hire foreign workers instead. He said one of ACT's member companies interviewed 180 American applicants and couldn't find a person with the right skills for the position.

Reed voiced concern about requirements in immigration legislation that would make companies file "mounds of bureaucratic paperwork to qualify for an H-1B" visa.

"The more burdens that are placed on hiring [foreign workers] will not hurt the big companies nearly as much as the small businesses," Reed said.

In particular, ACT representatives will be pressing lawmakers to back a set of amendments by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that would ease the requirements that employers would have to follow when hiring foreign highly skilled workers through the H-1B visa program. These amendments to the Gang of Eight's bill would add language that's similar to a high-skilled immigration bill introduced by Hatch earlier this year, which has received broad support from the tech industry.

 "We can't have restrictions that cause small businesses to tap out and not participate" in the H-1B visa program, Reed said.

Trade associations that represent Google, IBM and Intel have also voiced support for Hatch's amendments to be adopted into the sweeping immigration bill. While the bill significantly increases the H-1B visa cap, tech companies argue that the new restrictions and rules in the H-1B section of the Gang of Eight's bill would make it difficult for them to obtain temporary worker visas for new foreign hires.

The AFL-CIO and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Gang of Eight and Judiciary Committee, have spoken out against Hatch's amendments, arguing that they would relax protections in the bill for American workers and give foreign workers an advantage.

ACT, which represents mobile app companies, will also push lawmakers to increase the fees that employers would have to pay for H-1B visas so that extra money would be funneled toward a fund dedicated to improving so-called STEM education programs. Reed said the current education system is not producing enough American students equipped with the science, math and engineering skills needed to fill jobs in the tech industry, and app companies are willing to invest money to address that skills gap.

"We're trying to find a way to pay for what we know we need," he said.

The mobile app executives will also meet with the commissioners and staff at the Federal Trade Commission to discuss online privacy and new rules on online children's privacy that will be implemented soon.