Wall Street Journal
By Kristinia Peterson
January 29, 2013
Technology companies that have been clamoring for an increase in the number of visas for highly skilled workers think their chances are improving as support builds in Congress for a broad immigration overhaul.
Companies including Microsoft Corp. MSFT +0.35% and Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. NDAQ +0.43% welcomed a Senate bill introduced Tuesday that would increase the number of H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers and foreign students who have advanced degrees from U.S. universities. A similar bill passed the House in November, but Democrats soured on a provision that offset the new work permits by cutting an equal number of visas awarded through a lottery. The Senate bill would add new visas and permanent-resident cards for certain students, researchers and some others without taking others away elsewhere.
Introduced by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sens. Christopher Coons of Delaware and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the Senate visa measure is expected to be folded into broader immigration efforts gathering steam in Washington.
Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined a broad immigration plan, including easing the way for foreign students to stay and work at U.S. companies after graduation. He highlighted the role of immigrants who studied in the U.S. before starting businesses here, including chip giant Intel Corp. INTC +1.09% and Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing app. He also calls for creating work permits for foreign entrepreneurs who have secured U.S. financing and for specialized foreign workers in national-security science and technology labs.
The business-friendly measure could sweeten an immigration deal for Republicans who have traditionally resisted efforts to provide a path for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers to become U.S. citizens. "Hopefully it does provide some momentum as we're looking at addressing immigration issues across the board," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), a co-sponsor of the bill.
Technology companies including Microsoft and Google Inc. GOOG +0.39% said Tuesday that raising the current annual limit of 65,000 H-1B visas would ease their labor problems and boost business. Foreign-born workers helped develop Google News and Google Maps, the search-engine company pointed out Tuesday.
"The business community and technology sector are running up against a shortage of highly skilled labor, and we need more H-1B visas," said Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft.
The Senate measure also would make it easier for skilled foreign workers to switch jobs and for their spouses to find work. It would scrap country-specific limits for certain visas.
Scott Stanfield, chief executive of Vertigo Software Inc., a 62-employee firm in Richmond, Calif., said it costs him about $7,000 including legal fees, and as long as a year to complete the H-1B visa-application process for a foreign worker. "If more H-1Bs were available and the process expedited, it would be great for our business," Mr. Stanfield said.