H-1B reform bill unites political opposites

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell’s H-1B bill co-sponsors represent broad political range

H-1B visa american flag

Since 2005, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) has been introducing H-1B reform legislation in the House and getting nowhere. But with the bill he introduced today, he might have struck gold.

Pascrell calls his bill bipartisan, but that doesn't quite do it justice. The co-sponsors of this bill, called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2017, are about as far apart politically as you can get.

This legislation, perhaps more than any other H-1B reform bill introduced in either chamber, illustrates the belief that visa reform is a strongly bipartisan issue that can bring together otherwise divided lawmakers.

One co-sponsor is Dave Brat (R-Va.), who beat U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the then house Republican majority leader, in a 2014 primary and then went on to win general election. Brat, an economist by training, was backed by the local Tea Party, and campaigned as a steadfast conservative against Cantor.

"U.S. immigration policy should serve the interests of the American worker," said Brat, in a statement. "When I came to Congress I promised to examine where our immigration laws are falling short," he said.

Pascrell's bill requires employers to make a "good faith effort" to hire U.S. workers before hiring an H-1B or L-1 worker. It sets limits on the number of H-1B visas that can go to a firm, and its seeks a new way of distributing visas that gives top priority to U.S. advanced degree grads.

Pascrell's bill has some of the same provisions found in the Senate H-1B reform bill introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) last month. But the real point of interest in Pascrell's latest effort will be its sponsors.

Another bill sponsor, who is serving his first term, is U.S. Rep. Rohit "Ro" Khanna (D-Calif.). He is a Yale law school graduate and former deputy secretary of commerce in President Barack Obama's administration.

Khanna is a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and was endorsed last year by a long list of technology leaders, including Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce; John Doerr of VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook; and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, among others.

Khanna, in a statement, said he is supporting the H-1B bill because it "will offer reforms that eliminate the abuse of the H1-B visa program."

"As the son of immigrants, I know that immigrants strengthen our nation and economy," said Khanna, whose parents are from India. "But we cannot allow for companies to underpay foreign workers and use them to replace American workers."

The fourth name on the bill is U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a dentist, who was part of the 2010 Tea Party wave. His immigration views include support for ending sanctuary cities, and expanding the fence that covers the southern border.

Gosar and Brat both have an A+ ratings from NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower immigration levels.

Pascrell, who supported President Obama's comprehensive immigration reform efforts, gets an F- from NumbersUSA. Khanna hasn't been in Congress long enough to get a score by the group.

An H-1B reform bill is possible in this Congress. In previous years, president Obama and other Democratic leaders wanted comprehensive immigration reform. But supporters of this approach blocked piecemeal bills, such as H-1B reform bills, because they didn't want to lose tech industry support for broader reform.

But with the Republicans now in control in Congress and the White House, the roadblocks to H-1B reform may not be as strong as they once were. The co-sponsors on Pascrell's bill are an indication of the political change.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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