Tech lobby has no Plan B on immigration

The tech industry insists it has no backup plan if its push for immigration reform comes up short in Congress. 

Industry insiders argue there’s still time and political momentum to get legislation out of the House despite the pessimism that’s started to pervade some corners of Capitol Hill and the White House.

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“We’re not thinking about alternatives. We’re fully committed to the House process, whatever it will be and whatever it is,” said Peter Muller, director of government relations at Intel.  

“I don’t think we have the luxury to think about a Plan B,” he added. “I don’t know what it would be that would work.”

House Republicans are still grappling with how to proceed on immigration legislation following the passage of a sweeping bill in the Senate. The House Republican Conference met behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss a path forward on the divisive issue.

Lobbyists for the tech industry say they remain confident that changes to the immigration system are within reach despite the uncertainty in the House.

The current debate is the closest Silicon Valley has come to two long-held goals: securing more green cards for highly educated and skilled foreign workers and raising the annual cap of H-1B visas.

For that reason, the tech industry is eager to quiet the naysayers who predict immigration legislation is about to hit a wall.

“I think we’re seeing movement. The House Judiciary Committee marked up four bills last month, and the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform, which they didn’t do in 2007,” said Andy Halataei, director of government relations at the Information Technology Industry Council. “We’re moving forward.”

Another tech lobbyist argued that it “still has three quarters to play” to get a bill over the finish line, and said the process is going to take time.  

“We’re at a point in the legislative process that no Congress has been in a generation,” the lobbyist said.

Tech companies acknowledge that moving legislation through the House won’t be an easy task, but say they have no plans to veer their lobbying efforts on immigration in another direction.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after the meeting today and we don’t know exactly how it’s going to proceed. But our message to the House is it has to proceed, and if we don’t do it now, the window is going to close and the opportunity is going to be gone for a very long time,” Muller said. 

To ensure their message resonates with Congress, tech companies have hosted fly-in trips for their executives to roam the halls of Capitol Hill and held briefings for staffers. Top leaders in the industry, such as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have signed onto letters urging Congress to pass legislation.

So far, the push has paid off. The tech industry was able to ward off a set of labor-backed amendments from being adopted into the Senate bill that would have required them to follow extra requirements when making hiring decisions. 

Tech representatives say the House has more pressure to get something done on immigration this time around now that the upper chamber passed an immigration bill. Industry will also be keeping a laser focus on the moves House members make.

“Immigration reform isn’t a hypothetical ‘should we?’ question, but is a ‘when will we’ decision. How the process moves forward and how the legislation is resolved will certainly impact how the tech sector gauges support for members,” Halataei said.

“There would be tremendous disappointment in the Valley if this failed,” one tech lobbyist said.