The Senate Judiciary Committee Agrees On H-1B Changes

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed on a new deal for high-skilled workers in need of a visa. The H-1B visa has been at the center of a long-running debate between U.S. employers and unions. There are 65,000 H-1B visas, primarily used by the high tech sector based in California. The high tech industry has been clamoring for more H-1B visas for foreign-born workers with advanced degrees to enter the United States, while U.S. unions generally have opposed bringing in outside employees when the unemployment rate across the nation is still so high.

A compromise was hammered out by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) after weeks of work. The Senators agreed to modify the conditions of workers who use an H1-B visa. The AFL-CIO has yet to support their compromise.
Previous suggested amendments have been rejected, including the one from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) which would have boosted the annual number of H-1B visas to 325,000 from 65,000.

The bipartisan Group of Eight proposed that the current number of H-1B visas go to somewhere between 110,000 and 180,000; the number is dependant on the needs of the U.S. economy continuing to improve and the fluctuating needs of the labor force.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also rejected an amendment requiring that audit companies use H-1B workers.

H-1B visas are intended for foreign workers with advanced technical skills and post-college degrees, such as engineers, scientists, computer programmers and journalists. Companies in the high-tech sector have been pushing for more H-1B visas even before 2008, when the U.S. economy tanked. They argued that the quota of H-1B visas was too small for their hiring needs; the quotas were regularly filled within hours of applications being accepted between 2004 and 2007. In 2007, the applications were filled in under 24 hours.

The H-1B is what is known as a “non-immigrant visa,” used by the U.S. as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). The H-1B gives employers in the country the ability to temporarily employ workers from foreign counties in specialty occupations.

If someone is working with an H-1B status and quits or is fired by the sponsoring employer, that worker must find new employment, apply for and be granted a change of status to another non-immigrant status, or leave the United States. They must have, at least, a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure.

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Texas Lawmakers are Helming the Nation's Immigration Debate

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The state’s 26 Republicans have been on Capitol Hill, attempting to unify one plan for the country’s immigration laws. But the opinions of the Texas lawmakers can be as diverse as those of the entire nation.

While Texas Senator Ted Cruz is one of the many vocal critics of the Senate bill (he has called it “a disaster” on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show), Messrs. Carter, Cornyn and Johnson have stated that they believe the bill is workable, though they want to push for stricter border-security measures. Many GOP colleagues have been asking for a set of individual bills which together would patch together a comprehensive plan for the immigration system.

Immigration reform is an ongoing political issue for Texas, due to the population issues, say Texas immigration advocates. Non-Hispanic whites are in the minority in Texas, one of just four U.S. states in which that is the case. Texas has close to 2 million undocumented immigrants within its borders, behind only California. According to state GOP leaders, the demographics of Texas were the leading factor in pushing Texan Republicans to helm immigration issues long before those in other states where it is not as pressing of an issue for their own state’s constituents.

Last June, the Texas Republican Party altered its platform, removing the call for automatic deportation for undocumented immigrants, drafting a comprehensive temporary-worker program.

While Mr. Cornyn has pushed for an amendment containing such a strict border security plan, some Democrats have said its inclusion would cause them to lose faith in the bill. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry has stated in an interview that he believes a more serious effort to secure the country’s borders would help the general population put more faith in Washington’s stance on immigration.

Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.) injected a compromise amendment to the Senate bill. Known as the “Corker-Hoeven version,” the revised bill retains most of the language of the one drafted by the bipartisan Group of Eight, with an additional 119 pages, including a proposal of funding for at least 700 additional miles of fencing, aerial surveillance of the area and twice as many border patrol agents as planned – from 20,000 to 40,000. These additional amendments will add significantly to the estimated $6.5 billion border security budget.

Next, the 1,000-page immigration Bill, S.744, goes to the House.

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