Tech underwhelmed by Obama action

President Obama’s executive actions on immigration included just a handful of nuggets to help out technology companies, much to the industry’s chagrin.

The sector on Thursday was hopeful about Obama's announcement but seemed underwhelmed by the details. 

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“While we appreciate the president’s efforts to address the problems in our employment based system, and look forward to further details, it is disappointing that neither he nor Congress have been able to seize the opportunity to accelerate economic growth by fixing our broken immigration system,” Dean Garfield, the head of the Information Technology Industry Council, said in a statements after Obama announced his reforms.

Garfield’s trade organization represents Facebook, Google, Apple and other industry giants.

Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, described Obama’s actions as “minor incremental improvements” that fall short of the necessary overhaul. 

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is from Silicon Valley and has been a champion of the companies headquartered there, said Obama’s plan “has been a long time coming for the technology sector.”

“I know they will help ‎spur entrepreneurship and growth, modernize our outdated immigration system and drive innovation in Silicon Valley and throughout the nation,” she said in a statement.

Still, the executive actions “fall short of solving all the unique problems” facing the tech sector when it comes to immigration, Lofgren added, while encouraging Obama and Congress to go further.

The tech industry has long been pushing for immigration reform, in large part to help supply companies with fresh supplies of new coders, programmers and other employees.

“U.S. global competitiveness is being threatened by our outdated legal immigration policies, costing our economy hundreds of thousands of  jobs a year,” Shapiro said.

Critics accuse the companies of trying to bring in foreign workers to undercut U.S. labor.

Under the president’s plan, some immigrants’ spouses will be able to receive a visa without counting against the overall cap for high-skilled workers.

Foreign entrepreneurs will also have more options to bring their companies to the U.S. and the Department of Homeland Security will propose administrative changes to expand a temporary training program for science, math and engineering graduates of American universities.

“I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed,” Obama said in his address.

Some tech advocates would have liked to see Obama also recalculate how the cap for high-skilled visas is counted, however, in order to free up additional space.

As far as Congress is concerned, many in the industry would support lawmakers raising that cap, so that more foreign workers could come to the U.S. in the first place.

Obama's reforms that help out the tech industry are part of a much broader package that will extend work permits and protect about 5 million immigrants from being deported. The action has met stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress, who have pledged to fight the changes.