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10/16/2007
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Tension Growing Between Tech Groups Regarding Green Card Proposals

The Programmers Guild opposes expansion of the green card program for foreign tech workers, while the Semiconductor Industry Association and IEEE-USA asked Congress to revisit the program.

Although Congress' attempt to overhaul U.S. immigration laws died months ago, new proposals to re-examine the status of foreign-born tech professionals are beginning to splinter American tech lobbying groups that had traditionally been on the same immigration policy page.

In a letter faxed yesterday to Congress and signed by 270 tech professionals, U.S. IT worker advocacy group the Programmers Guild urged high-ranking House and Senate committee leaders to oppose expansion of the green card program or employment-based permanent residency for foreign tech workers.

The letter from the Programmers Guild was a rebuttal to a separate letter sent last week to Congress and signed by the presidents of two other high-profile tech industry groups, the Semiconductor Industry Association and IEEE-USA. That letter urged legislators to make it easier for foreign tech workers to gain permanent residency in the United States, including the creation of a new visa exemption for foreign students with U.S. degrees in science, technology, and math skills to gain direct green card status.

The letter co-signed by the presidents of the SIA and IEEE-USA surprised and angered some tech industry players, including members of the Programmers Guild and some members of the IEEE-USA. That's because traditionally, the IEEE-USA and the Programmers Guild have had similar positions regarding U.S. immigration policies. Both groups opposed raising the annual cap on H-1B visas, which is the most common temporary visa used by U.S. employers to hire foreign tech workers.

By contrast, the SIA has long lobbied to increase the cap on H-1B visas. Although the letter signed by the SIA and IEEE-USA last week did not urge Congress to increase H-1B visas, the IEEE-USA's support for expanding green card programs for foreign techies seemed to catch Programmer Guild members off guard and irk some of them.

In an e-mail sent to media, Programmers Guild president Kim Berry called the IEEE-USA and SIA green card expansion proposals "a disaster." And on its Web site, the guild alleges that green card expansion without H-1B visa reforms or reductions is "clearly a net loss for American tech workers."

In the Programmers Guild's letter to Congress, one angry signer, Robert Baxley, who described himself as an IT and telecom engineer, complained that as an IEEE member for 10 years, "I can't believe you're trying to sell us out for cheap, entry-level, low-skill so-called 'engineers.' "

An IEEE-USA spokesman notes that the IEEE-USA and the Programmers Guild had worked together on H-1B visa research in a report earlier this year, and, as far as the IEEE-USA is concerned, it still agrees with the Programmers Guild on H-1B visa issues.

However, "with 215,000 members, we can't expect all our [IEEE] members to agree with our position on everything," said the IEEE-USA spokesman about the angry letters and responses.

The Programmers Guild's Berry, however, said in an e-mail that "we were completely blind-sighted by IEEE's decision to align with SIA, against the interests of the the careers of the USA members. We feel betrayed that there was no prior discussion or inclusion among other organization leaders, nor input sought from IEEE members."

Raising the cap on H-1B visas, along with many other assorted proposals, including H-1B anti-abuse, anti-fraud provisions, and changes in green-card processes and policies, were all part of controversial and comprehensive immigration reform legislation that Congress had been considering earlier this year.

When that comprehensive reform bill -- which also included other hotly debated immigration issues like border control -- died in the spring, so did discussion about H-1B visa and green card reform.

In recent weeks, various groups -- in addition to the SIA, IEEE-USA, and the Programmers Guild -- have launched letter-writing campaigns aiming to nudge Congress into revisiting immigration reforms that relate specifically to tech industry concerns.

Among others writing letters to Congress was tech industry coalition Compete America and also a group of 13 state governors urging Senate and House leaders to resume discussions on raising the H-1B visa cap.

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