Blasting Obama as a way to get H-1B visas

There is a group spending millions of dollars on TV advertisements blaming President Barack Obama for adding “$4 billion in new debt every day.” These shrill ads do not mention GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, they’re just against Obama.

The television advertisements are running like crazy in 10 battleground states. CrossroadsGPS, the group behind the effort, claims to have $25 million to spend.

What CrossroadsGPS isn’t advertising on TV is its support for expanding the H-1B program, and its opposition to any restrictions on it. It may be running a Chamber of Commerce campaign by proxy.

At the end of this commercial viewers are invited to visit the NewMajorityAgenda.org, which actually redirects to CrossroadsGPS.org. There is a list of issues on the site.

Platform of babble

Under immigration, CrossroadsGPS calls for a policy to “fix existing laws to ensure legal immigration that benefits America and those who play by the rules.”

This statement is babble until you look at the people behind CrossroadsGPS and then it begins to makes sense.   

Steven Law, the president of this group, is a former deputy labor secretary in President George W. Bush’s administration and later chief legal officer and general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He has testified on the H-1B issue.  

Both Bush and the U.S. Chamber support expansion of the H-1B program.

Opposition to Durbin and Grassley

In 2009, when Law was at the Chamber, Senators Richard Durbin (D-ll) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced an H-1B reform bill which, among other things, restricted a firm’s use of the visa to 50% of its employment base. The intent was to force Indian offshore firms, in particular, to increase their U.S. hiring to make up for some of the jobs being lost to offshore outsourcing.

The Chamber, while Law worked there, opposed this legislation and lobbied against it. Grassley and Durbin are still fighting for it.

In 2005, Law testified before Congress in his role at the Labor Dept. and argued, in part, that there was a particular need for foreign workers in the software industry and the computer hardware engineering industry. “These are areas where there simply is a much greater need for additional workers than the current domestic labor supply can keep the pace with,” said Law.

Offshoring and technical unemployment

Two months prior to his appearance before the committee, the IEEE-USA released a survey on engineering employment that found that 15% of the respondents reported that their jobs were transferred offshore. This was the headline that the IEEE put on its press release: “Offshoring Is Major Cause of Technical Unemployment, IEEE-USA Survey Reveals.”

In November, 2004, the IEEE-USA also reported that “the number of unemployed U.S. high-tech professionals dropped sharply from the first quarter of 2004 to the third quarter. The decline mirrors the reinstatement of the H-1B visa cap to its historical level of 65,000 in Fiscal Year 2004 from 195,000 in FY 03.”

But automatic decrease in the cap never sat well with the Bush administration.

Campaign by deflection

The Bush administration was adamant in support of increasing the H-1B visa cap. "We've got to expand what's called H-1B visas," said Bush, in 2007. 

Congress didn’t raise the H-1B cap because of a deadlock over comprehensive immigration reform. The Bush administration moved, instead, to expand the Optional Practical Training program from 12 to 29 months. The OPT program lets students in science, technology, engineering and math fields work on their student visas.

Because of the recession, the Obama administration hasn’t faced the same pressure the Bush administration did to raise the H-1B cap. It is turning attention, instead, on permanent residency, green cards.

The point of the CrossroadsGPS advertising campaign is to damage Obama as much as possible as well as deflect attention away from other issues, including those of significant interest to the tech community. CrossroadsGPS doesn’t want a debate on the H-1B visa because it doesn't help Romney.  

Asking questions

Unfortunately, the press covering the campaigns won’t ask Obama or Romney where they stand on tech immigration issues.  It’s too niche of an issue and they don’t understand it.

The only way this issue will get public attention will be through people such as Jennifer Wedel, the wife of an unemployed engineer. She used her chance to ask Obama a question on an online forum as an opportunity to probe him about the H-1B program.

Meanwhile, it’s good to know what CrossroadsGPS really wants for its millions. What’s next is to find out where all its money is coming from.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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