Anti-H-1B senator to head immigration panel

Sessions calls claims of a highly skill labor shortage a 'hoax'

jeff sessions and orrin hatch

U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), left, and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) chat before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2014. The two men are at odds over increasing the number of H-1B visas.

Credit: Gary Cameron/Reuters

The biggest enemy facing U.S. Senate Republicans in raising the H-1B cap are Senate Republicans.

The Senate's two top Republican critics of temporary worker immigration, specifically the H-1B and L-1 visas, now hold the two most important immigration posts in the Senate.

They are Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who heads the Senate's Judiciary Committee, and his committee underling, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was appointed by Grassley on Thursday to head the immigration subcommittee.

Grassley has been the Republican's most tenacious and unwavering critic of the H-1B program and has tried to curb use by offshore outsourcers, in particular. Sessions, however, may emerge as the Senate's most vociferous and fiery H-1B opponent.

Sessions, late Thursday, issued a statement about his new role as immigration subcommittee chairman, and said the committee "will give voice to those whose voice has been shut out,” and that includes “the voice of the American IT workers who are being replaced with guest workers."

Sessions last week accused the tech industry of perpetuating a "hoax" by claiming there is a shortage of qualified U.S. tech workers.

"The tech industry's promotion of expanded temporary visas -- such as the H-1B -- and green cards is driven by its desire for cheap, young and immobile labor," wrote Sessions, in a memo he sent last week to fellow lawmakers.

Last summer, Sessions attacked Microsoft's push for more H-1B visas as it laid off 18,000 employees. Now, as subcommittee chairman, Sessions will have the ability to conduct investigations and hold oversight hearings.

That Senate memo was Sessions' rebuttal to efforts by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, who is seeking an H-1B increase.

The contrast between Sessions and Hatch on this issue could not be sharper. Hatch said, "Our high-skilled worker shortage has become a crisis." Sessions, meanwhile, responded: "Not only is there no shortage of qualified Americans ready, able, and eager to fill these jobs, there is a huge surplus of Americans trained in these fields who are unable to find employment."

Hatch introduced legislation, with the support of some Democratic lawmakers, to raise the H-1B cap from 85,000 to 195,000. But the bill creates what may be an unlimited influx of foreign workers by eliminating a cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field from a U.S. school. The IEEE-USA says the bill will destroy the U.S. tech workforce.

Many people who graduate with STEM degrees don't get jobs in the field. An Economic Policy Institute study last year found that the supply of STEM graduates exceeds by 2-to-1 the number of graduates who get hired.

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