Senators Mull A Dual Track For Green Card, And More H-1Bs - InformationWeek

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Senators Mull A Dual Track For Green Card, And More H-1Bs

Compromise expected soon would keep employer sponsorship and merit points. It would also put no cap on visas for U.S.-educated recipients of advanced degrees.

As congress debates sweeping changes to U.S. immigration, a group of senators has prepared a plan to create two tracks for getting a green card: one through employer sponsorship, and another based on points awarded for skills and education.

The compromise amendment, expected to be introduced this week, also would dramatically raise the number of H-1B visas for temporary workers by eliminating caps for visas given to foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. universities. Today, 20,000 H-1B visas are set aside each year for those grads, in addition to the 65,000 general cap. The compromise also proposes eliminating caps on H-1B visas for foreigners with advanced degrees in science, tech, engineering, and medical fields from foreign schools.

Hatch pitches a dual track -- Photo by Sipa Press

Hatch pitches a dual track

Photo by Sipa Press
The "merit point system" for green cards, which give foreign workers permanent U.S. residency, was included in a recently proposed immigration reform bill and would be one of the most dramatic changes in immigration policy. Employers oppose it because it would erode their influence in sponsoring would-be immigrants. The compromise would retain a pool of 140,000 employer-sponsored green cards for foreign workers seeking permanent residency, in addition to the point system.

The high-tech industry has a lot at stake in the immigration debate, given how much tech companies and outsourcers use green cards and H-1B visas. This most recent proposal comes from Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and Robert Bennett, R-Utah. President Bush is leading the campaign for broad immigration reform.

Robert Hoffman, Oracle's VP of government affairs and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition of technology companies, says the dual-track system would be more like Australia's. U.S. tech employers say that it would give them more control over the talent they'd like to keep in the country. They contend that a point-based system would shift to government bureaucrats too much control over the talent pool available to employers.

Employers will like the compromise bill, for both the green card provisions and the H-1B expansion. But the U.S tech-professional advocacy group the Program- mers Guild calls it "a declaration of war on American tech workers."

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