Labor and business groups argue over visas

A rift has emerged between organized labor and business groups in the United States over the high-skilled worker program that is included in the immigration reform bill that is currently before the Senate, as the technology industry and other companies attempt to make it easier for US firms to be able to hire more workers from overseas.

On the eve of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, a broad coalition of business groups has written to the panel urging for changes to be made to the US visas program known as H-1B.  The immigration bill would see the cap on high-skilled workers increased from the current limit of 65,000 to 110,000, with the possibility of it being raised still further to 180,000 in future years depending on the conditions of the labor market.

The National Association of Manufacturers, in a letter signed by the Chamber of Commerce and in association with other big technology lobbying organizations, has welcomed the rise but now wants to see some of the requirements for the immigration program changed, changes that they claim would help to avoid “unintended consequences” that might be contrary to the aim of encouraging innovation.

The amendments proposed include a softening of the requirements that are intended to make sure American workers have the first chance at high-skilled jobs, and labor organization the AFL-CIO is unimpressed.  “The idea that you’re going to change the bill to deny American tech workers a shot at the jobs of the future – that’s not good politics, that’s not good policy and it isn’t going to pass,” says spokesman Jeff Hauser.