Here's where Clinton and Rubio stand on the H-1B visa issue

Sen. Rubio's view is easy to understand, Hillary Clinton's less so

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Credit: iStockphoto

The two latest contenders to enter the presidential campaign sweepstakes -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Hillary Clinton, the onetime Democratic senator from New York and former secretary of state for President Barack Obama -- both support increasing the H-1B visa cap. But there are differences in their positions.

Rubio is straightforward about high-skill immigration. He supports a big increase in H-1B visas, as well as easy access to green cards for foreigners who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in STEM disciplines. He is sponsoring a bill, I-Squared, to do just that.

The other two announced Republican candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also support increasing the visa cap substantially.

Clinton, too, supports an increase in the cap. In a 2007 talk, she made her position clear, saying: "I also want to reaffirm my commitment to the H-1B visa program and to increase the current cap. Foreign skilled workers contribute greatly to our U.S. technological development."

But Clinton has a lot of history. As secretary of state in Obama's first term, she took a more nuanced stance.

The Indian government sees easy access to H-1B visas as essential to its IT services industry. But in 2009, in the midst of a recession, the Obama administration was cautious about anything suggesting support for offshore outsourcing.

"In a global recession, every country is going to want to make sure that we have enough jobs for our people," said Clinton at a news conference six years ago in India. "So, we have to figure out how we're going to work together. Outsourcing is a concern for many communities and businesses in my country. So how we handle that is something that, you know, we are very focused on doing in a way that doesn't disrupt the great flow of trade and services that go between our countries."

Clinton's diplomatically worded answer threaded through any commitments.

The Clinton legacy on the H-1B visa goes deep and involves decisions in the late 1990s that had a major impact on how it is used today.

In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton's administration was under pressure from the tech industry to raise the cap. But the administration wanted a cap increase coupled with reforms that would require companies to first try to hire U.S. workers if a job paid less than $75,000. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be $108,000 in today's dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.)

The Clinton administration's intent was to call the industry's bluff that there was a shortage of highly skilled workers.

But the administration backed away from its position after negotiations with Congress, and didn't require employers to, broadly, make a good faith effort to first hire American workers before bringing in a temporary employee. The compromise bill, which increased the H-1B cap to 115,000, only required recruitment attestation from H-1B-dependent employers -- those defined as having 51 or more employees, at least 15% of whom were H-1B visa holders.

Whether Hillary Clinton, as first lady, had a role at all in those discussions is not known.

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