The Information Technology industry had been following the mid-term election very closely, especially after President Obama’s announcement late this past summer to defer his plans to implement immigration reforms by means of an executive action, until after the midterm elections. The Republican victory and subsequent takeover of Senate would seem to indicate that President Obama’s move may have backfired. At present, the IT industry is uncertain how things will pan out for the H-1B visa caps under the Republican majority.
The high-tech industry has long been lobbying for reforms regarding H-1B visa cap, presently at 65,000 with an additional 20,000 for foreign students who have done their Master’s degree in the United States. The H-1B visas have long been the primary source of hiring highly skilled foreign workers for specialized technology jobs. Bill Gates, former chief executive of Microsoft is known to have been actively calling out for removing this cap. Along with Warren E. Buffett and Sheldon G. Adelson, he recently made an open appeal to law makers to break the immigrant impasse.
Concerns about the H-1B visa in the IT industry
Esteban Herrera, Partner with global outsourcing insights and advisory firm Information Services Group (ISG), shared his clients’ concerns related to H-1B visas: “One of the reasons nothing has gotten done about the H-1B visa reforms is the ongoing debate as to whether H-1B Visa reform is even necessary. The indisputable data is that corporations of all sizes are finding it difficult to access the skills they truly need in their employees. How to solve that issue becomes a matter of ideology, but I don’t have a single client that wouldn’t appreciate a bigger pool of skills to choose from, and I don’t have a single client that believes its own workforce is keeping up with current technology.“
Charles Kuck, Managing Partner of Kuck Immigration Partners LLC, assists employers and employees with business and professional visas. Working with employers in the IT industry on compliance procedures and verifying the work eligibility of all new employees, he minced no words in saying, “One thing is clear, the IT industry believes that US schools are not turning out enough qualified individuals. If they were, they would not be using foreign nationals, who cost them far more to hire, given filing and attorney fees, and mandatory wage amounts.”
Shedding further light on the political impasse about these issues, Herrera added “The current issues and concerns about the H-1B visa in the IT industry are that politically they are not popular, and understandably so, because people get the sense that an American’s job might be swapped out for a foreign resource that is willing to work for less. The fact that this has actually happened has not helped the cause of H-1B supporters and consumers. But again, there is a dearth of necessary skills, so more often than not the H-1B holder is doing a job that is incremental to locally available resources.”
What the IT industry is looking out for
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa meant only for temporary workers. The government’s current stance of clubbing the H-1B visa cap issue with the immigration reforms for illegal aliens and other issues has not gone down well with technology firms. Bundling everything together makes it take longer to move forward. “IT companies would settle for just an increase of numbers of available foreign nationals who could be approved for visas, along with an easier program to secure visa holders year round, rather than once a year. That, of course is a pipe dream given this year’s election results,” shared Kuck.
Herrera added, “The IT industry is looking for limitations and ratios of H-1B holders to domestic employees. Nobody knows what the formula will ultimately be, but if legislation does get passed, it seems like a foregone conclusion that ratios will be a part of it. “
What the Elections mean for H-1B visas
The Republicans have traditionally (post-Reagan Administration) maintained a hard stance on immigration reforms, including H-1B visas. This gives technology leaders little hope of seeing the annual H-1B cap removed. Kuck fears chances for reform have changed for the worse, “Senator Grassley, a main opponent of foreign nationals, and H-1B visa holders in particular, has a series of ever increasing demands on limiting the H programs, increasing filing and other fees, and requiring higher wages than would normal be paid to US workers. He is now in charge of the judiciary committee in the Senate, and will play a key role in any future changes.”
Herrera is still a bit hopeful. He believes immigration reforms are not likely to get through before the 2016 elections. “The U.S. mid-term elections will likely have no impact on H-1B reforms. There is a deep divide between the populist [“tea-party”] and pro-corporate wings of the Republican party. I would imagine that the last thing they would want to expose wielding the majority is their internal divisions, so I expect them to work on legislation they can agree on and pay occasional lip service to immigration reform to position themselves better with immigrant minorities for the 2016 elections. My best guess is that no immigration reform will pass before the 2016 elections. If it does, it will be very limited to those things that Republicans can agree on within their party, and that could actually lead to an easing of the H1-B restrictions in the short term,” he shared.
While President Obama and most lawmakers agree that immigration reforms need to come soon, it remains to be seen how fast they are able to make things happen, given the major differences in opinion between the two sides.
Herrera drew attention to the fact that US-based software giants and the foreign-based service providers are the most exposed. But ever the optimist, he also pointed out the silver lining, “The impasse on H-1B reforms, in the long term, may help create an even greater demand for IT talent and actually encourage Americans to go to college for IT careers that have fallen out of favor recently.”
Headline photo courtesy ancestry.com