Hatch, Schumer strike Senate immigration deal
Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch has struck a deal with Democrats to make it easier for high-tech companies to get temporary help from foreign workers.
The compromise paves the way for Hatch, R-Utah, to support the major immigration overhaul when it comes up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
With his support, it is expected to pass on a vote of 13 to 5 on its way to a debate in the full Senate.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who is also a member of the committee, has announced his opposition to the bill that tries to boost border security, streamline the visa process and eventually allow the 11 million people here illegally to gain citizenship.
Hatch has been the only swing vote in the committee, which has spent five days debating the bill.
He made his support contingent on the acceptance of amendments involving temporary visas for highly skilled labor, known as H-1B visas. The bill did boost the numbers from 65,000 visas up to a possible 180,000, depending on the economy, but it also required companies to show that they were not displacing American workers.
The tech industry found those regulations onerous and Hatch warned that without changes the bill would push companies to move jobs overseas.
The Utahn had to contend with Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who believe companies have abused the H-1B visas to sidestep American workers for cheaper foreign labor. They have the backing of labor unions.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., negotiated with Hatch for the past four days leading to a deal that allows the number of highly skilled visas to expand faster.
It would also let a company not dependant on H-1B visas obtain one by certifying that it had no intention of displacing an American worker but wouldn't subject the business to a Labor Department audit when hiring people for science, technology, education and math positions.
Companies that have 15 percent or more of their workforce on those visas may face a position-by-position review by the federal government.