Why Tech Employers Hate Congress' New Immigration Reform Bill 2

Major corporations say the legislation's restrictive provisions and fine print will handcuff their ability to hire the talent they need to compete globally.
What else irks tech employers? Lots. Under current laws, only companies that have more than 15% of their workforce on H-1B visas -- so called "H-1B dependent" firms -- are held under certain rules and restrictions. But under the new proposals, some restrictions are expanded and cover all H-1B employers, regardless of how dependent they are on H-1B workers for their U.S. workforce. So, companies like Microsoft would be held to the same scrutiny as Indian firms, like Wipro or Infosys, whose U.S. workforces currently are made up mostly by H-1B visa-holders, many who allegedly stay in the U.S. for only short training stints that lead to the offshoring of work by U.S. customers. A Microsoft spokeswoman admits that one-third of the company's U.S. workforce is on "visa assistance or green cards." However 90% of Microsoft's H-1B workers seek permanent residency in the U.S., according to Krumholtz. Microsoft won't disclose the specific percentage of its U.S. workforce on H-1B visas, or whether Microsoft is an "H-1B dependent" firm that has 15% or more of its U.S. workforce on H-1B visas.

"The proposals would apply restrictions to any employer that wants to hire H-1B workers," says Krumholtz. "If there's abuse or fraud, let's go over that, let's target those actions to employers abusing the system or engaging in fraud," he says. "Why apply those restrictions to legitimate employers?" he says.

The new proposals require all H-1B employers to attest that no U.S. worker was displaced from a job six months prior or after an H-1B worker was hired. That rule creates big hurdles for "legitimate" employers in terms of flexibility of its workforce and global competitiveness, says Krumholtz. Oracle's Hoffman says he thinks the provisions "are a huge requirement that might violate international trade laws." It hinders companies from responding to changes in the economy-- for instance if an H-1B worker in a specific job was hired a few months before an economic downturn, would that inhibit a company from downsizing or layoffs of its American workforce, asks Hoffman.

"That's a heavy burden on the H-1B program," he says. "That change and other enforcement could make H-1B [hires] too costly," driving U.S. firms to do exactly what Americans don't want to happen -- move work offshore because it's less costly, says Hoffman.

Other restrictions proposed include the requirement that an H-1B visa applicant's educational degree match up with the job. So, for instance, an individual applying for a U.S.-based job as a software engineer would need a software engineering degree. "What if that person has a PhD in mathematics?" asks Krumholtz, indicating that would be prohibited.

As for the proposed point system, a few other countries, including Canada, Australia, and most recently the U.K. have adopted point systems. However, in the case of Australia, for instance, there is a dual-track system that includes employer-sponsored immigration. That dual-track is missing from the U.S. proposals, and that could ultimately drive talented applications to seek employment in other countries in which it's easier to obtain work visas or permanent status. "The biggest winners in this are Australia, Canada, France" and other countries that are making immigration easier, not harder for the highly skilled, highly educated, he says.

Multinational companies like Oracle will be less affected, since an applicant that can't make it to the U.S. could take a job with Oracle's other global operations, Hoffman says. However, those new restrictions will make it harder for promising American startups to hire foreign tech talent in the U.S., he says.

While tech employers aren't happy with the bill because of the restrictions it places on H-1B hiring and the proposed green card point system, opponents to the H-1B program aren't thrilled about the bill either.

"As 'comprehensive immigration reform,' it is a total joke," said John Miano, founder of U.S. tech professional advocacy group Programmers Guild in an e-mail interview with InformationWeek.

"The bill doesn't please anyone. Does not solve the problem it is addressing," he says.

This story was modified on May 24 to reflect new info from Microsoft regarding its U.S. visa and green card workforce.