What this election means for H-1B, offshoring

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

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One of last acts of Congress before it recessed for the election was to improve a border security bill that also increased H-1B visa fees -- much to the ire of offshore firms. The Tea Party candidates, in particular, have made border security a key issue, which could lead similar bills.

But Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, doesn't believe the election will bring much change in Congress on H-1B and offshoring. "Neither issue cuts across party lines very cleanly," said Hira. "Instead, the divide really is populist vs. elite rather than partisan."

Hira notes that Rob Portman, the Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio and a former House member, is "a bona fide dyed-in-the-wool free trader who will go to the mat for offshoring and for expanding H-1B visa limits. But not all GOP folks think like that."

There is also a scenario where a GOP-led House and a Democratic Senate could create an opportunity for movement. In that situation, "both parties would have an equal stake, equal ownership," said Mark Roberts, the CEO of The TechServe Alliance, which represents IT services companies. That might make it easier for both parties to compromise on some legislation.

"But it's kind of hard to see how they come together at this point," he said.

Jeff Lande, a lobbyist and tech industry adviser at The Lande Group, said, "Unfortunately, politics may easily overcome the substance and the economic realities for members of Congress on both sides. [Lawmakers] are probably going to be willing to demagogue rather than make sure the country has the economic resources necessary to continue along the path of recovery."

Tech lobbying ramps up

Lobbyist William Cohen, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense and a former Republican senator from Maine, has been stumping for acceptance of offshoring. He has written an op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal and has appeared on C-Span, arguing that for every job that is outsourced nearly two jobs are created in the U.S. He also called on India to drop some of its protectionist barriers.

Among the companies Cohen's lobbying firm represents is India-based Tata Sons, which owns Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act Database. TCS is India's largest IT services company. Cohen, who is also a leader of the U.S.-India Business Council, was not available for comment.

Hira said it's unclear how much of Cohen's effort is linked to the election or to President Barack Obama's planned visit to India in mid-November. "I think his facts are wrong and the things he is advocating are bad for American workers, the American economy, and for national defense," said Hira.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also been advocating for fewer restrictions on the H-1B program in recent months. Even so, plenty of visas remain available. As of mid-October, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau had received 58,500 petitions for H-1B visas; the annual allotment is 85,000, a figure that includes 20,000 visas set aside for advanced degree holders.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS 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.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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