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Klobuchar looks to increase visas as part of immigration reform

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
klobuchar.senate.govSen. Amy Klobuchar

WASHINGTON — The comprehensive immigration reform plan pitched by a bipartisan group of senators on Monday consisted more of guidelines than actual policy proposals, but at least one potential component of the plan has already been written, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others plan to introduce it sometime today.

Klobuchar’s bill — written with Republicans Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Florida) and Democrat Chris Coons (Delaware) — deals with one subset of immigration reform: finding a way to attract highly skilled immigrants to the United States and retaining them once here. The bill would do this by greatly expanding the number of temporary work visas the government can distribute and opening more doors to permanent citizenship for those workers.

“We have been literally shutting our doors, training our competition’s students to come over here and study,” Klobuchar said, “and then we literally send them back to India to start the next Google, instead of allowing them to invent things here.”

Bumping up visa numbers

Under current law, the government can issue so-called “H-1B visas” to only about 85,000 new workers a year (65,000 to highly trained workers in the private sector, another 20,000 to workers with advanced graduate degrees from American universities, and an unlimited but small number issued to workers at academic and research institutions). Most years, demand greatly outpaces supply; the government processed just fewer than 350,000 such requests last year.

In response, Klobuchar’s bill would:

  • Increase the cap from 65,000 to 115,000;
  • Remove the cap on visas given to workers with graduate degrees;
  • And use a sliding scale to adjust the total number of visas offered (up to 300,000) depending on overall demand.

The bill is likely to drop today, Jan. 29, the same day President Obama speaks about immigration reform proposals in a Las Vegas speech. A bipartisan group of eight senators laid out the principles of their immigration plan on Monday, centering on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers in the country now, as long as the federal government works to secure its borders. The group said legislation will come sometime in March.

Klobuchar said she expects her bill will be incorporated into a final immigration reform package.

Huge demand

The H-1B program has been around since 1990, and demand has exceeded supply every year except the first few years of the 2000s, when the cap was temporarily increased to 195,000 following the dot-com boom (and subsequent bust).

Companies request the visas on behalf of their employees. The visas last six years and are renewable annually after that if workers, supported by their company, look to continue their search for full American citizenship. (Klobuchar’s bill also increases the number of “green cards” available to these workers).

Depending on the state of the economy, the program can be hugely popular. The government takes applications on a first-come, first-serve basis every April, and spots tend to fill up quickly, Metropolitan Policy Program senior analyst and associate fellow Neil Ruiz said. In 2008, visa spots filled up on the first day they were available.

Technology industries are especially keen on the program, with about 60 percent of visas going to computer or engineering workers. Twin Cities-area companies requested an average of about 4,200 H-1B visas over the last two years, according to a Brookings Foundation report. More than 2,700 of those were for computer-related jobs.

“It’s really the program that’s used to recruit and retain high-skill workers,” Ruiz said.  

Companies that employ H-1B workers have long advocated an increase in visas. Klobuchar said she talked to 3M while crafting the bill, and Microsoft (which alone accounted for 1 percent of all H-1B visas between 2010 and 2011) called for more visas and green cards for specially-trained workers last fall.

The bill incorporated part of what Microsoft was calling for, increasing the fees companies pay to get these visas by about $1,000, Klobuchar said. The measure would generate about $300 million a year, which would funnel down to state science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs meant to train a homegrown workforce.

“We have a long history in our country of getting talent from other places,” Klobuchar said. “They come here, they live here, they raise their families and they start businesses and they come up with ideas and they fix things, and employ people, and that’s what we need again in this country.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

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Comments (19)

Strongly disagree

Having spent a good deal of time in the corporate world I have to disagree with Senator Klobuchars position and conclusions. Our corporations have been on a long journey to lower wages in this country. There has been a constant drumbeat to bring in ever more HB1 workers since the early eighties. In the nineties and oughts there were many good technology workers on the bench while the corporations screamed for more workers from outside the country. It was not true that we did not have the numbers then and it probably isn't true now. If it is true why aren't we producing enough Americans to fill these good paying jobs when we have so many out of work or unable to find work.

Many of the workers brought in are housed in dormatory like apartments, work long hours, and most of their pay goes to the recruiter who brings them in and places them. The reason for bringing them in is because much of the work cannot be done efficiently offshore for a host of reasons language nuance being one of them. I will be letting Senator Klobuchar know loud and clear the jobs they want to fill with HB1 workers are the jobs we should be training/teaching Americans how to do although I suspect we have quite a few who can fill them. This is just one more way to transfer wealth to the top of the ladder from those who do the work.

Strongly disagree

I could not agree with you more. Klobuchar is totally off-base on this. The H1-B visa program is terrible for USA technically educated persons who are thrown out of their jobs by cheap labor and dreadful for many H1-B visa workers.

also strongly disagree with the senator - not describing reality

Ms Heffernan spells it out nicely. This phrase from the senator does not cohere with teh h1b visa holders that are normally seen...

"“We have a long history in our country of getting talent from other places,” Klobuchar said. “They come here, they live here, they raise their families and they start businesses and they come up with ideas and they fix things, and employ people, and that’s what we need again in this country.”"

the h1b visa holders are not accurately described by this quote from the senator. tHEY dont stay here, but are pimped out in giant bunches by a foreign consulting companies for temporary use at a multinational uS company and in the process, displace usa workers.

H1b Visas

I can recall back in 2004, that H1b visas were an issue. Back then there were homegrown tech people who couldn't find work because slots were filled by people in the country on H1b visas.

So, is the problem that we are not educating enough people to fill the slots? Or, is this more of an issue of what the employers are willing to pay!

Lets face the facts; if the employer can get the work done for less expense, the bottom line looks better for the company. While this is what all companies strive for to be competitive; why should the homegrown talent be left in the shadows, having to compete with lower paid workers? This is just a way to drive down wages and inflate the bottom line, increase the stock price, and in turn the bonuses at the top.

Wealth and income disparity is the greatest since the 1920's, and this legislation will do nothing but exacerbate the problem.

Negative impact of more visas on older citizens

At a time when there is a high rate of unemployment among technically trained USA citizens who are 50 and older, Klobuchar's bill is sad, sad, sad. Unfortunately, Klobuchar listens to businesses (which like cheap technical brains) and not to ordinary technically educated persons. The number of unemployed engineers, etc., with master's degrees is a reality that Klobuchar chooses not to see.

Tying to companies

It's probably overall good for the country to allow in more highly skilled and educated workers, and it doesn't make sense to educate them here and then kick them out. A problem with H1-B is the workers are tied to one employer. That's bound to depress wages, and I doubt very much many employers really just couldn't find someone in America when they bring in someone on H1-B. I'd even be open to dropping the requirement that the employer can't find an employee here, but then the foreign worker has to be free to leave the employer without violating their visa. It then becomes in their interest to maintain high wages just like a citizen.

Strongly disagree with H-1B

The last contract I did as a computer programmer was in 2009, working for the US Post Office, rewriting some very old systems. I was part of a crew of 50 workers hired to do the job. 30 of those people were H-1Bs from India. Large Indian companies like Infotech get a foothold here and then funnel in their own people as fast as they can ship them over. As the project wound down, the American were the first to go. After that I was unable to find another job in IT, partially because there are so many H-1B workers flooding the market. We need to train and hire more Americans, not import more competition for our jobs.

And here I thought

Sen. Klobuchar was signing on to another soft, how-can-I-get-in-trouble-for-this issue. If I understand the system correctly, there must be a demonstrated shortage of competent prospective employees for an employer to obtain an H-1B visa. Training is a longer term goal, one which requires that there be a base of qualified and interested students. Despite the fact that IT continues to offer one of the highest paying opporunities for recent college grads, I understand that the number of IT grads continues to fall. Why?

Potential IT students are scared off by high IT unemployment

Hi,

The number of students in IT related fields has dropped dramatically since the big IT melt down after the big year 2000 projects. Since then, unemployment and age discrimination have been a major problem in IT and students are not interested in a field that is so insecure. Of course, the H1-B problem makes the situation worse for USA IT grads too. A lot of companies will not hire USA citizens when they can get H1-B visa holders for much less and work them for very long hours. Yes, Minnesota companies do this too. Disgusting but true. It's important to note that most professional organizations such as IEEE have opposed expansions of the H1-B visa program in the past and probably will this time too.

PS

Isn't one possible solution to the "foreign help is cheaper" problem to require that H-1B employers pay prevailing wage? Or is that something that would be anathema to Republicans?

Minnpost, this is a controversial issue

I'm disappointed not to see more in-depth, multi-faceted analysis there.

I suggest your reporter read up on this issue in publications like Wired, Cnet, The San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous other tech-oriented publications before writing about this again.

One thing I know for sure, as a long time tech worker: if we need more highly skilled people than we have (a controversial assertion in and of itself, by the way), we should invite them here with the prospect of a quick green card, rather than any restrictive visa. No employee should be tied to a specific employer for the privilege of remaining in the United States. We need to treat people with more dignity than that. Free to choose their employer, these workers will earn the prevailing wage and the market will be able to decide if they are really needed.

H-1B workers' fealty to sponsoring employers

I have personal knowledge of the power employers hold over employees in these circumstances. The "foreign" worker is indeed on a short leash. Should the employment ends, back they go to their country of origin - almost without delay.

With the power so shifted in favor of the employer, this not only means the employee works for less in the first place, but in my experience - though this obviously does not cover all cases - does not dare demand the fair and appropriate rate of pay for the work they are doing. I worked with a group of employees in this situation who were terrified of raising their voice. They were all underpaid.

No wonder the employers are so enthusiastic, and the demand so high !!

Senator Klobuchar - we should give more protections to the H-1B worker. It will mean more foreign students will want to stay and contribute here. Likewise, it will tend to put the American worker on a more equal footing with the H-1B worker, so it will help those at home.

Carole nails the visa issues!!

Carole Heffernan's comments are cogent and bear further attention and discourse. The Senator's stance has no bearing on Minnesota voters. Klobuchar's stance appears, on its face, can be described as anti-voter and pro-business in the extreme. I can guess at her motives; Klobuchar appears to be attempting to curry favor from "Big Business". Self enrichment and/or future considerations, perhaps? It would be great to see or hear our senior Minnesota Senator explain how Joan Q. Public would benefit from these ideas.

Senator Klobuchar shows her true allegiance is to Big Business

I have worked in IT in the Twin Cities for 14 years and agree with most of the previous comments, especially Carole’s.

Employers have systematically decimated the employment opportunities of computer programmers for years by hiring H1B workers who will work for less than a competitive wage and benefits package. The philosophy at one major Twin Cities company: we don’t care if it takes 3 H1B programmers to do the job of one US programmer, we’re still ahead financially because we pay them so little. The scene in the elevator lobby at another major Twin Cities company: three quarters of the employees appear to be from India.

H1B visas were originally intended to allow people with extraordinary skills and talent to enter the US. The program has been corrupted by American companies who insist that they cannot find the talent they want in the US and need to bring in foreign workers to fill jobs: We can’t find the experienced people we need to do our jobs…and the unsaid part is “at the price we want to pay”.
All of these thousands of foreign computer programmers working in the US have depressed the wages of experienced US workers. When is it going to stop?

Senator Klobuchar is wrong on this issue. This is the second time in two months that she has supported Big Business instead of the many voters who reelected her in November. The other issue was the medical device tax. What next Senator?

senator h1 b visa wrong in this climate

susan rasmussan 's rendition of reality coheres with what I have seen as a computer pgmr displaced by h1 b visa personnel. it is insane to do this when we have an unemployment and , just as importantly underemployment problem of usa workers.

the senator is getting the wrong info from the wrong people.

Bandaid approach

The real issue that needs to be addressed here is our education system or lack there of. Why aren't we producing the population of talented people that other countries are ? SAD ! ! ! !

the senator''s bill s/ add 100k proviso

a reasonable qualification to the senator's bill wd be to add the requirement that h1b visa holders wd have to earn at least 100k; this is the type of job for which the h1b visa was originally conceived - guru like positions that is extra hard to find in america. instead, what has happened , us companies have used this visa to get soldier type of position filled at produce harvesting labor rates.

no more lost American jobs

I am the child of immigrants that were forced to flee Russia so I am not against immigration.
I absolutely want to repeat to Senator Klobuchar that more immigrant worker visas are bad for this unemployed American and many others. I don't see any advertisements indicating that rare skills are needed for US businesses. The free marketers are mostly trying to degrade American workers compensation and work conditions. If they really needed specific skills they would train existing workers or hire and train new workers. American workers can no longer afford to train at their own expense only to find no jobs and the usual catch 22 that "you have no experience" and a H1B visa get the job for less compensation.
If businesses honestly need these "skilled" workers than these visas must be tied to employing an American worker to be trained to replace the H1b foreign worker and a large fee paid to an American worker training fund. Apprentices create skilled loyal workers.

Klobuchar either naive or a corporate hire on the H1-B issue

There is no shortage of unemployed highly trained US citizen STEM graduates or workers. Businesses like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and others claim a shortage of appropriately and highly trained US workers and graduates. What business working to reduce wages and benefits by hiring low-wage, indentured foreigners would not make such a claim if they thought they could get away with it? away with it? The 'lack of training' in US STEM job applicants or current workers is often simply use of a program modification that would take a day or two of update or familiarization training for qualification, which companies have done in the past.

Klobuchar says that the H1-B program is needed to bring in highly trained entrepreneurial individuals with special skills not available here. BS--typically, H-1B imports are low-skill, with no oversight by DOL or any oversight agency. There is a special visa, an O visa, for such special-skill individuals, but it is not used because most imports would not qualify. Research shows US STEMs are more entrepreneurial than imports on average. Many H1-B imports in med-tech are simply nurses aids that replace higher wage US workers. Klobuchar solution to require that companies advertise before hiring will not work, because it is not working now as citizen STEMs interviewed are not hired due to wages acceptable to foreigners are much lower. Increasing the no. of tech workers via imports increases job competition, which is another device for offering low wages.
It is clear if one looks at a lot of data and testimonials from citizen STEMS (e.g., Zuckerberc PAC or Bill Snyder blog oninfoworld, among others) that Tech companies are simply on a cost (wage)-reducing campaign involving age discrimination and naïve or conscripted Congress persons are just accepting what tech companies tell them. Klobuchar just naïve?