What this election means for H-1B, offshoring

Different scenarios favor H-1B visa opponents, proponents, or no one

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who faces a tough fight for re-election on Tuesday, has been using the issue of offshore outsourcing to attack his opponent, Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle.

One of Reid's TV ads includes someone saying, "Sharron Angle supports tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas -- that's just crazy."

The national unemployment rate of 9.6% has made offshoring a top issue in this year's midterm elections, but will the results of Tuesday's voting change the H-1B visa battle in Congress? Much depends on which scenario plays out on Nov. 2.

Some scenarios favor H-1B opponents, others play out for the tech industry, and still others would leave the visa debate deadlocked.

In the Senate

If Reid loses this election, who would replace him as the Senate majority leader? If the Democrats retain control of the Senate, the two most frequently mentioned replacements are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), two lawmakers who have sought major reforms of the H-1B program.

What happens if the Democrats lose the Senate? Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the sharpest critics in Congress of the visa program, would likely gain prominence. Grassley has co-sponsored H-1B visa reform legislation with Durbin.

The tech lobby might get help from Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, if she wins her race against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in California. That contest is considered close, with Boxer apparently holding a small lead in pre-election polling.

In the House of Representatives

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has worked to block tech-industry-backed legislation that would raise the H-1B cap to avoid fracturing support for comprehensive immigration reform. H-1B opponents have been able to piggyback on the clout of this caucus. But if the Hispanic caucus loses ground Tuesday, it might be easier for the industry to push for bills affecting H-1B and employment-based green cards.

In a Republican-controlled House, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) will be the person to watch on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration issues. He might become chair of the committee if the GOP prevails on Tuesday.

In 2008, Smith favored raising the H-1B cap to 195,000 for 2008 and 2009. "The American economy thrives on high-tech companies that require high-tech workers to remain globally competitive. H-1B visas are necessary to ensure that these companies have the resources and workers required to succeed," he said in support of the measure. But Smith may also be open to reforms, and he has voiced support for limiting the access offshore companies have to the visas.

What will Congress do on immigration, H-1B?

If Congress acts on immigration, it will want to move early in 2011 to avoid getting that activity mixed up with the presidential race, which will get under way quickly in the new year.

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