Durbin warns Republicans standalone H-1B hike plan will fail

H-1B increase can't happen without comprehensive immigration reform, Durbin tells tech CEOs

A push by the high-tech industry to support a stand-alone H-1B increase is drawing the ire of U.S. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

In a letter to the CEOs of Accenture, Amazon, Cisco, Deloitte, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle, Durbin said an H-1B cap increase can only come as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Although the letter is addressed to execs at tech firms, the real message is for House Republicans.

Durbin's letter, released Wednesday, is a response to concerns from comprehensive immigration reform proponents that House Republicans, at the urging of the tech lobby, may try to push a standalone H-1B hike.

In June last year, the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration bill, 68 to 32, that raises the base 65,000 H-1B cap to 115,000. The bill also includes an escalator that can raise it to 180,000. The visa limit for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities would rise from 20,000 to 25,000 and be restricted to STEM grads.

On the same day the Senate took its final vote on immigration reform, the House Judiciary Committee approved a standalone H-1B bill, the Skills Visa Act by 20-14, which would raise the base H-1B cap to 155,000, and the advanced degree cap to 40,000.

The Skills bill was approved without Democratic support, and the ability of the Republicans to get standalone legislation approved in the full House is in doubt. But even if Republicans succeed in getting something passed, Durbin, who as Senate majority whip occupies the number two leadership spot, is telling them that such a bill would go nowhere in the Senate.

Compete America, a major industry lobby group on immigration, earlier this month sent out a statement urging the House to approve the Skills bill. That statement seems to have surprised Durbin.

"It was my understanding that high tech was committed to supporting [comprehensive immigration reform] because the industry's top priorities are addressed in our legislation," wrote Durbin in his letter.

"I am troubled by recent statements suggesting that some in the technology industry may shift their focus to passage of stand-alone legislation that would only resolve the industry's concerns. This 'divide and conquer' approach destroys the delicate political balance achieved in our bipartisan bill and calls into question the good faith of those who would sacrifice millions of lives for H-1B relief," Durbin added.

Comprehensive immigration reform proponents have long believed that their path to success means linking an H-1B increase to the legalization of millions of undocumented people.

In an email response to Durbin's letter, Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, said that "No one has done more to support the comprehensive debate than tech. Any suggestion that we are not committed to comprehensive is clearly inaccurate. Our actions have been, are, and will continue to be consistent with moving comprehensive reform forward. This is based on our practical views as well as our convictions: total immigration reform is the best solution for our country."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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