A rising star, Sen. Rubio, avoids a sinking ship, the H-1B visa

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is considered as someone who will help shape immigration policy for the Republicans. But what will Rubio do about tech immigration?

Rubio, who is often cited as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, doesn’t believe that the U.S. produces enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) graduates.

"I don't think there's a lot of concern in this country that we'll somehow get overrun by Ph.D.s and entrepreneurs,” he said in a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal.

Rubio supports STEM green card visas for master’s and Ph.D. grads. He has proposed a new visa, for up to 75,000 people, who have created a business that employs two full-time, non-family members, and has at least $100,000 in capital.

These provisions were included in the Startup Act 2.0, introduced last session by a group that included Rubio, Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

In supporting the Startup Act, Rubio is attaching himself to ideas that have been getting bounced around for several years in the House and Senate. But what’s missing from Rubio’s tech position? The H-1B visa, of course.

Lawmakers have been going out of their way to avoid talking about temporary guest worker visas, which play an important role in offshore outsourcing. It’s very uncomfortable for them to argue, like McKinsey consultants, that offshoring jobs lowers costs, improves productivity, which then creates more demand and more jobs, when U.S. multinationals are proving them wrong by not hiring. That’s why Microsoft felt compelled to propose paying $10,000 extra per H-1B visa.

At this point, Rubio is no Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) or Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The two have long favored restrictions on the H-1B visa, including a provision that will keep offshore firms from having more than 50% of their workforce on the H-1B visa, the so-called 50-50 provision. They want to raise prevailing wage tiers. They may want to give H-1B workers more flexibility to leave an employer. Their efforts have not gone away. 

That said, could Rubio emerge as potential ally of Grassley and Durbin? It probably depends on how much influence Grassley and Durbin have on a comprehensive bill.

There are rumors that Rubio and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)  will introduce legislation next week on immigration, perhaps a tech-specific focused bill. Hatch is on the immigration subcommittee, Rubio isn’t.

Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is leading the comprehensive immigration bill effort. Schumer is working with Republicans, notably Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But what happens if Rubio and Hatch introduce their own bill?

Rubio and Hatch probably aren’t interested in sinking Schumer’s effort. They may be more interested in finding a way to get leverage and credit on a comprehensive bill. Schumer might even welcome the effort as a means to foster support.

As a still junior senator, Rubio may be a minor force on tech immigration. His real importance may be in building a bipartisan consensus on a comprehensive bill with an uncertain mix of tech immigration provisions. 

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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