Hatch: Tech-backed H-1B visa measures key to his support on immigration

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah) defended his amendments on visas for highly-skilled workers in the Gang of Eight's immigration bill on Thursday, saying the proposed changes are key to winning his support and getting other GOP votes for the sweeping measure.

"We've got to iron out the H-1B situation so it doesn't push businesses to hire people overseas, which is what the current language will do, and everyone who looks at it knows that," Hatch told reporters Thursday afternoon.

ADVERTISEMENT

The tech industry is pushing for Hatch's amendments to be adopted into the bill because they would ease the restrictions employers would have to follow when hiring foreign high-skilled workers through the H-1B visa program. Tech companies believe 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 argued that these tech-backed amendments are critical to the bill's passage.

"I think if we don't solve their problem, it will sink the bill," Hatch said. 

"The H-1B [amendments] will help the bill and it will get them votes," he later added.

But not everyone is a fan of Hatch's proposed changes. They have faced pushback from Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the Gang of Eight, who argues that the proposed changes would chip away at protections in the bill that require employers to offer jobs to American workers first. The AFL-CIO and IEEE-USA, a group that represents U.S. engineers, have championed that view and say Hatch's amendments would put foreign workers at an advantage over Americans.

Hatch rejected that argument, saying the tech companies have thousands of jobs open because there are not enough U.S. applicants with the requisite technical skills to fill them.

"Nobody that I know of wants to have foreigners chosen over domestic workers. I sure don't," he said. 

"A lot of what my amendments will do will allow these math, science, tech people [and] engineers who we educate over here to stay here and help us to be super competitive instead of going overseas and creating more competition overseas," he said. "That's what we've done. China wouldn't be anywhere near where they are right now if it wasn't for American-trained Chinese engineers." 

The Utah Republican said he would vote for the bill out of the Judiciary Committee if his amendments are adopted, but he'd need to secure four finance-related amendments in order to support its final passage on the floor.

"If they solve the H-1B problem with me, I will support the bill out of committee," Hatch said. "But I still have to have other amendments, and they know it and they know why."

The Gang of Eight bill addresses the tech industry's call for more H-1B visas and raises the visa cap to 110,000 from the existing cap of 65,000. But tech companies argue that new oversight and enforcement mechanisms added under the H-1B program would make it more difficult for them to hire foreign talent.

Tech companies use the temporary worker visas to hire highly skilled foreign workers, including scientists, computer programmers and engineers.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.), a Gang of Eight member and colleague of Hatch's on the Judiciary Committee, is attempting to work out a compromise on the Utah Republican's amendments with Durbin.

During the Judiciary Committee's markup of the immigration bill on Thursday, Schumer asked Hatch to defer putting his amendments up to a vote in committee until a compromise is reached "early next week."

Hatch says Schumer is close to securing an agreement, but vaguely referenced that the New York senator is facing pushback from Durbin.

"I think we're close to an agreement. [Schumer] says we are. I think part of it is that one of the senators on their side is doing the bidding of the unions and sincerely believes that they're right and we're all wrong," Hatch said. "I don't find fault with people who sincerely believe the way they do, but we gotta change this."