Foreign students who earn graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math from American universities could get permanent legal status to stay in the United States through a Senate immigration plan.
The plan for high-skilled graduates would be a boost for the tech industry, which has argued on Capitol Hill in recent months that large companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have trouble finding and keeping qualified workers because of visa limits, the Washington Post reports
The visas would come through the H1B program, created in 1990 to attract high-skilled workers from around the world, and would mean the 65,000 visas per year that are currently available to immigrants, would double.
A bipartisan group of eight senators is working on the measure, which is a key part of an immigration reform plan expected to be the basis for a deal between Congress and the White House as it works on considering one of President Barack Obama's top agenda items.
The efforts to attract high-level workers could grant permanent legal status to masters or doctorate graduates from U.S. industries. Tech industries are seeing it as an achievement, as many companies have been trying to increase the number of green cards available for foreign high-skilled workers and their families.
“We’re encouraged,” said Scott Corley, the executive director of Compete America, a coalition including Intel, Google, IBM, and other tech leaders. “On an issue where the politics are so hard, you can’t overbuild when you know you might not get another shot at it for 25 years.”
Universities also see the plan as an enticement to help them lure more graduate students from other countries.
However, over the years, the H1B program itself has come under fire, as it has become a way for outsourcing firms to bring in lower-paid employees. In many cases, these companies train foreign workers in the United States and then send them back home to work for less money, critics of the program complain.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durban has been trying to convince the immigration reform team to accept restrictions on the visas that would require companies to make a good faith effort in hiring Americans, as well as preventing companies that use the H1B program to hire more people.
And Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said the high-skilled worker plan could be “reckless” and keep American citizens from getting good jobs.
Tech companies, though, have spent millions lobbying and supporting candidates on both sides of the aisle. The industries gave $62 million to federal candidates and political candidates in the 2012 election cycle, and last year spent a record $132.5 million on lobbying efforts in the nation's capitol.
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