H-1B battle to take center stage in Senate on Tuesday

I-Squared, a bill that would increase the cap on H-1B visas, will likely be a committee topic

visa rubber stamp

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the H-1B visa that will bring together the temporary visa’s most outspoken critics and supporters.

The hearing was called by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, and will occur as the tech industry pushes for adoption of the I-Squared Act. The bill would raise the base cap for H-1B visas from 65,000 to 195,000 and eliminate the cap on people who earn advance degrees from U.S. schools in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Grassley has long sought visa reforms to give U.S. workers preference in hiring. On the opposite side of the issue is fellow committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chief advocate of the I-Squared bill.

I-Squared has 10 Senate co-sponsors -- six Republicans and four Democrats. They include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is a possible presidential candidate.

Joining Grassley on Tuesday to denounce the temporary visa program will be Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who heads the immigration subcommittee and has become particularly outspoken about the visa’s impact on highly skilled workers.

Grassley’s problems with the H-1B visa are reflected in some of the witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing.

They include Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, an organization which has been critical of the H-1B program. Other critics include Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University and Jay Palmer, who was an employee of Infosys when he triggered a federal investigation into that company's use of B-1 visas, or visitor visas, for work that requires an H-1B visa.

Also set to testify is John Miano, the founder of the Programmers Guild and an attorney who has challenged the government's expansion of the Optional Practical Training program. He is listed as testifying on behalf of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. Another person scheduled to testify is Hal Salzman, a Rutgers University professor who studies STEM workforce issues and is a critic of the H-1B program.

Others scheduled to testify, possibly in support of an expanded H-1B visa program, include Bjorn Billhardt, the founder and president of Enspire Learning, an Austin-based company that creates learning development tools. Billhardt is profiled on FWD.com, an industry group supporting immigration reform and H-1B increases. Also set to speak is Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, a group that believes, according to a policy paper, that H-1B visa workers “complement their native-born peers; they do not substitute for them.”

There is enough bipartisan support in the Senate to increase the H-1B cap. The question is whether there's enough support to impose restrictions on how that visa can be used and to make it more difficult to use H-1B workers to replace U.S. IT workers.

Among the Democrats backing I-Squared, who are also members of the Judiciary Committee, are Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota,and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Workers in both their states, Connecticut’s Northeast Utilities now called Eversource, and Minnesota’s Cargill, have seen IT workers replaced by offshore outsourcing companies that use large numbers of workers on H-1B visas.

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