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CEO: Tech industry's approach to immigration has been too broad

CEO: Tech industry's approach to immigration has been too broad
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The tech industry hasn’t been able to separate the need for more high-skilled foreign workers with the broader fight over immigration reform, the head of Cisco acknowledged Wednesday, in what he seemed to frame as a tactical mistake in recent years.

“I think that’s a fair criticism of us,” John Chambers said at an event hosted at Washington tech incubator 1776 on Wednesday.

“If we can’t get a larger immigration bill, let's address the job creation of today,” he added. “We haven’t been able to push that through.”

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The tech sector has been one of the biggest boosters of immigration reform in recent years. Executives say it changes are necessary to bring more foreign engineers and programmers into the U.S.

Last week, the government hit its annual cap of 65,000 skilled H-1B visas for the year in just about a week, which many reform advocates said was a sign of the need for more flexibility. 

However, instead of pushing for targeted reforms, many companies and groups like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us have instead been advocating for broader changes to the nation’s immigration system.  

Now that that seems impossible in the current Congress, Chambers suggested the miscalculation may have cost the industry.

“This is where we’ve got to be effective on where do we create a win-win, how do we educate the American people — who I think are really crisp once you give them the facts — on making the right decision?” he asked.

While Congress shows little sign of moving on high-skilled immigration reform in the near future, there is bipartisan support for the idea. Earlier this year, lawmakers including Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to raise the current cap on visas for high-skilled workers and allow the spouses of people with visas to get a job in the U.S. 

The effort has nonetheless run into opposition from some GOP lawmakers, who suspect abuse in the program and worry the companies are merely trying to undercut U.S. workers.