Monday, May 21, 2007

More Problems for the Immigration Bill

From Norm Matloff's* newsletter:

The bill definitely includes a huge expansion of the H-1B program. As you all know, I consider that to be completely unwarranted, as the tech employers across the board--large and small, U.S. and Indian-owned--use it for cheap labor. But of course the industry likes this part of the bill.

What they complain about... is that the bill would replace the current portion of immigration law that allows employers to sponsor foreign workers for green cards with a point system. By giving more points to people who are engineers, have advanced degrees and so on, the bill would appear, on the surface, to be exactly what the employers want.

So why are they screaming? One of the industry's chief lobbyists answers this way:

“Under the current system,” Mr. Hoffman said, “you need an employer to sponsor you for a green card. Under the point system, you would not need an employer as a sponsor. An individual would get points for special skills, but those skills may not match the demand. You can’t hire a chemical engineer to do the work of a software engineer.”

Gentle reader(s), you can tell this is pure poppycock. The "critical skills" requirements can be changed from year to year, which will remedy any imbalances (at least in the long run.) What the employers are actually objecting to is that they no longer "sponsor" an H1-B. In effect, that means that the H1-B is not their 'indentured servant,' as is the case under the current system. The immigrant gets to pick his employer, more or less--and will be able to change jobs for market-competitive wages.

There is also an age component. Matloff notes that

they want them YOUNG. That's why industry has been heavily supporting the proposals to give 'fast track green cards' to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities.

The bill, as written, would likely favor older applicants--who demand higher salaries AND usually have higher benefit costs (e.g., family-plan health insurance.)

But beyond that:

The point system would also largely replace many of the current law's provisions for family immigration. I think many of the players here don't understand how huge an issue that will be politically. The Asian-American political groups have made this a top priority over the years (back to the 1980s, when it was first proposed to remove the ability of naturalized U.S. citizens to sponsor their adult siblings for immigration).

The switch from "chain immigration" to "qualifications-plus-immediate-family-only" immigration is monumental; it's been "chain" for over 40 years. This is a provision on which the (R) and (D) negotiators agreed; the (D)'s because their immediate concern is the Mexicans, who already HAVE their immediate families here; the (R)'s because it's more "market-oriented."

Only problem for the (R)'s is that while the provision makes sense, it is not what the large H1-B employers really wanted. (See above.)

What's the upshot?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a heavyily Chinese-American district, and I believe that she would treat this as a deal breaker, much as she wants the CIR to go through. I believe that the current bill's section eliminating the ability to sponsor adult siblings for immigration will be one of the first to be removed from the bill.

Maybe. It's also possible that the whole damn thing will disappear down the porcelain tube.

*Matloff is a full prof at UC-Davis; he also writes extensively about the "tech-talent" and H1-B issues.

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