US tech chiefs lobby Obama and Congress on H-1B visas and green cards

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The chief executives of some of the most famous companies in the world have written a public letter to President Obama to press him to support legislation that would allow more skilled immigration into the US. They urge the President to 'address the need for more qualified, highly-skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, and to enact immigration reform this year'. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Eric Schmidt of Google and Bradford Smith of Microsoft all signed the letter.

The letter, dated 14th March 2013, is part of a campaign organised by TechNet, a policy network for the chief executives of high tech industries which aims to promote the interests of the tech sector. It was sent not only to the President but also to Congressmen and women and other influential figures in Washington D.C. It expresses support for legislation that would see more employment-based US visas granted, in particular employment based green cards and H-1B 'specialty occupation visas.

The letter says that 'the need for more qualified, highly-skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, who can create jobs and immediately contribute to and improve our economy' is 'one of the biggest economic challenges facing our nation'.

Immigrants founded eBay, Google, and Yahoo

The letter says that the US has 'a long history of welcoming talented, hard-working people to our shores' pointing out that immigrants founded companies such as eBay, Google, PayPal and Yahoo!

However, this vital role in the economy is endangered, the letter says, by an 'outdated and inefficient' immigration system which is now driving many immigrants away because of 'visa shortages, long waits for green cards, and lack of mobility'. The letter says 'there are tens of thousands of unfilled jobs requiring highly skilled individuals. Four high-tech companies alone – IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle – have combined 10,000 openings in the United States. Each one of these jobs has the potential to create many others, directly and indirectly'.

In recent years, there have been many critics of the US immigration system. US tech companies complain that they cannot get enough H-1B visas for migrants working in a 'specialty occupation'. They also complain that the fact that foreign workers often have to wait for eight years to have their permanent residence (or green card) applications decided is driving them to other countries such as Canada. Many international companies also complain that it is getting harder to get L1-A and L1-B intra-company transfer visas.

Congress agreed that reform is necessary

Many Congressmen and women agree that reform is necessary but cannot agree on what form it should take. This problem has been made worse by an almost total absence of cross-party cooperation in Washington in recent years. Consequently, when the Democrats introduce a bill, Republicans oppose it and vice versa. As a result, the system remains unreformed.

The CEOs, who also include John Donahoe of eBay, John Chambers of Cisco and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, asked the President and Congress to reform the skilled immigration system to ensure that 'numerical levels and categories for high-skilled non-immigrant and immigrant visas' are responsive to market demands.

They also ask for a change in US immigration law so that spouses and dependent children of main applicants 'should not be counted against the cap of high-skilled immigrant visas'. At present, if a worker gains a US employment based green card and brings his wife and two children with him, all four visas would be included in the cap. The CEOs say that 'there should not be a marriage or family penalty'.

Two acts have bipartisan support

The CEOs ask Congress to pass legislation to reform the system this year. They mention the Immigration Innovation Act and the Start-Up Visa Act as Acts that are already before Congress, which have bipartisan support and which would help the Tech industry to find the skilled employees it needs.

The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 has been introduced by a group of four senators, two Republican and two Democrat. It would increase the number of H-1B visas issued by US immigration each year to 115,000 immediately and would establish a mechanism that would see more visas granted in times when they were needed up to a maximum of 300,000 a year. It would also exempt certain categories of people including graduates in the STEM subjects from US universities and wives and children of skilled migrants, from the cap on the number of employment based EB-3 green cards that can be granted each year. There is currently a cap of 41,455.

The Start-Up Visa Act would grant 75,000 green cards each year to entrepreneurial tech workers and a further 50,000 to graduates from US universities in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

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