After health care vote, high-skill immigration debate quickly returns

Programmers Guild, U.S. also tangle again over student visas

With President Barack Obama set to sign the health care bill on Tuesday, high-skill immigration issues are back in Congress and in court.

Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R- S.C), late last week, released an immigration reform "blueprint" in advance of their legislation that calls for giving permanent residency or green cards to immigrants who receive a PhD or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university.

"It makes no sense to educate the world's future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy," they wrote in an op-ed published on Friday in the Washington Post.

President Barack Obama praised the framework develop by Schumer and Graham, as well as "pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform."

Separately, the Programmers Guild is challenging the U.S. in a Supreme Court appeal over whether the Bush administration in 2008 made an illegal end-run around the H-1B cap by extending the amount of time foreign nationals can work in the U.S. on student visas from one year to 29 months.

It is trying to convince the justices that the high-tech workers have been "foreclosed from applying for some American jobs," that have been reserved for students in the student visa program.

The Bush administration extended the student visa "Optional Practical Training" program by 12 months to help relieve some of the demand for H-1B visas.

Schumer, who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, has favored increasing the H-1B visa cap but his "blueprint" doesn't offer a specific proposal for that visa, although a direct path to a green card for advance degree holders would take some of the pressure off H-1B visas.

Out of the 85,000 H-1B visas allowed under the cap, 20,000 of them are specifically set for students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees. Workers who are today applying for the H-1B visa could apply directly for green cards, under this blueprint.

The immigration reform legislation would also require every worker to "obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card" with a biometric identifier, which would be swiped by an employer.

The Obama administration has supported increasing high-tech immigration, and defends in court the Bush administration's decision to extend the student visas. The government contends that tech workers don't have the right to challenge the visa extension because they weren't directly affected, and have "suffered no injury in fact because they cannot identify a job for which they were not hired, or from which they were fired. Instead, they assert that they suffer an injury from increased competition for jobs from nonimmigrants," the government said in its filing.

The Programmers Guild argues that the government is using the student visa beyond what it is intended for. The ultimate question, is whether the government has the power to bypass the cap in "order to ameliorate a perceived 'competitive disadvantage faced by U.S. high-tech industries,'" they wrote in a court brief citing part of the justification made by the government for extending the student visa work program.

The Supreme Court can decide anytime whether to consider this case next year.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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