Sen. Hatch: No deal yet on tech-backed H-1B visa amendments

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Monday afternoon that he still has not reached a compromise on a package of his amendments to the Gang of Eight immigration bill that covers H-1B visas for highly skilled workers with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"We have a good chance of maybe getting there by tomorrow, I don't know. We'll have to see. Right now, we're not there," Hatch said.

Time is running out for Hatch and Schumer to reach a compromise on the amendments; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is aiming to wrap up the panel's markup of the sweeping immigration bill by mid-week. Winning Hatch's support for the bill is seen as critical to its passage by the Gang of Eight because they believe his backing could help sway other GOP members to vote for the bill.

Hatch has made clear that he will not be able to support the bill's passage out of committee unless he is able to secure an agreement on his H-1B-focused amendments, which are strongly backed by the tech industry. The package of amendments would ease the new rules and restrictions in the bill that employers would have to follow when hiring a foreign highly skilled worker on a temporary worker visa, known as an H-1B.
 

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"We're making some headway, but we're not there yet," Hatch told reporters.

The amendments have faced pushback from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Gang of Eight who has argued that they would chip away at protections for American workers built into the bill. Durbin says the protections in the bill ensure that companies offer technical jobs to American workers first before they look to hire a foreign worker.

The AFL-CIO and a group that represents U.S. engineers, IEEE-USA, have both backed Durbin's view. 

Hatch and Schumer have spent more than a week trying to find a compromise on the Utah Republican's amendments so they will be agreeable to the Gang of Eight.

Tech companies have been lobbying fiercely on the Hill for support of Hatch's amendments. The tech industry believes the new rules and requirements in the current version of the Gang of Eight's bill would make it difficult for them secure the H-1B visas they need to fill open technical jobs with foreign talent.

Hatch's amendments are modeled after text of a bill he offered earlier this year, the Immigration Innovation Act (I-Squared), that was strongly backed by the tech industry. The bill proposed to significantly increase the number of H-1B visas available to foreign highly skilled workers, expand the H-1B visa cap on a given year depending on market demand and free up more green cards for foreign talent.

Although the two senators are running low on time, Hatch expressed optimism that he will be able to finalize an agreement with Schumer on his proposed changes to the bill.

"I wish [the Gang of Eight] had just taken up the I-Squared bill. It made sense, it was simple, everybody could understand it ... but they didn't, and so now we got to try and work through and get language that'll work," he said. "We're not there yet, but I have reasonable hope that we will be there."