CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Business

May 16, 2013

INFLUENCE GAME: Tech, labor spar on immigration

WASHINGTON —

Editor's note: An occasional look at how behind-the-scenes influence is exercised in Washington.

To the U.S. technology industry, there's a dramatic shortfall in the number of Americans skilled in computer programming and engineering that is hampering business. To unions and some Democrats, it's more sinister: The push by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to expand the number of visas for high-tech foreign workers is an attempt to dilute a lucrative job market with cheap, indentured labor.

The answer is somewhere in between, depending as much on new technologies and the U.S. education system's ability to keep up as on the immigration law itself. But the sliver of computer-related jobs inside the U.S. that might be designated for foreigners — fewer than 200,000 out of 6 million — has been enough to strain a bipartisan deal in the Senate on immigration reform, showcase the power of big labor and splinter a once-chummy group of elite tech leaders hoping to make inroads in Washington.

"A lot of people agree that employers should have access to (highly trained) immigrants — that they are a benefit to the country, and we are a country of immigrants," said B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration. "I think the question is how much of a good thing is good."

The Senate immigration bill — the result of months of quiet negotiations among eight influential senators — is on track to nearly double the number of highly skilled foreign workers allowed to work in the U.S. under what's called an H-1B visa, from 65,000 to 110,000. The number of visas could climb as high as 180,000 depending on the number of applications received and the unemployment rate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee planned to take up the portion of the bill relating to H-1B visas on Thursday, paving the way for an eventual floor vote and setting the tone for debate in the House.

The expansion of H-1B visas is considered the first major victory for Zuckerberg's new nonprofit lobbying organization, FWD.us, which receives financial backing from such big tech names as Bill Gates of Microsoft, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Napster pioneer Sean Parker. In announcing the group, pronounced "forward us," Zuckerberg in April called for changes so that U.S. businesses could attract "the most-talented and hardest-working people, no matter where they were born."

But support for FWD.us appeared to crack this week after the group's subsidiary ran television ads backing Republican senators who support immigration reform but also unpopular environmental programs, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Two backers of FWD.us — including PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who now runs electric-car maker Tesla Motors — pulled their support for the group, and several left-leaning groups, including the Sierra Club and MoveOn.org, protested the ads.

Frustration by some tech leaders was captured on Twitter, where site co-founder Evan Williams linked to a blog post on his new company's website that accused FWD.us of "employing questionable lobbying techniques, misleading supporters and not being transparent about the underlying values and long-term intentions of the organization."

In an emailed statement, FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen said: "We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be pleased by our strategy — and we're grateful for the continued support of our dedicated founders and major contributors. FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform."

H-1B visa applications can be complex and often are used when a qualified American candidate can't be found for a specialized job in a specific city. The visa candidate typically costs the company money and time, including extensive paperwork.

The flip side is that once a company is permitted to hire a foreign worker, that employee has little leverage to demand a raise or leave for a company's competitor without putting his or her visa at risk.

Scot Melland, president and chief executive of Dice Holdings Inc., which operates a career website devoted to tech jobs, said Dice.com has more than 80,000 positions posted on its site, which turn over an average of every two weeks. And while his company doesn't track how many jobs result in H-1B visa hires, Melland said he predicts that the number of tech jobs and high salaries available to Americans is likely to grow for some time. He said expanding the H-1B program is necessary, so long as safeguards prevent companies from exploiting foreign workers.

"As long as it's not abused, you're still talking about a small fraction of the tech labor market," Melland said.

Lowell said the number of information technology jobs affected by H-1B candidates is closer to 2.5 million than the broader pool of 6 million computer-related jobs frequently cited by industry. He said this more specialized labor market could become distorted by the Senate's plan to increase the number of legal immigrants overall.

According to a recent report by the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, the number of skilled guest workers has increased sharply in recent years while only 1 in 2 U.S. college graduates with high-tech degrees can find a job in their field.

"You have to question why we would want to import an increasing number of foreign workers," said Lowell, who co-wrote the report.

 

1
Text Only
Business
  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 18, 2014

  • WSCC HILL.jpg Hill hits the ground running at Wallace State

    Marcie Hill of Double Springs likes taking on new challenges. As an 18-year veteran of the education system, Hill has taught first grade, sixth grade and served as a reading coach to students and teachers in Kindergarten through sixth grade.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: A boom in firework sales

    This year could be quite the boom for fireworks sales across the U.S. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, or the APA, sales are already off to a good start.

    July 3, 2014

  • Edward Jones Recognized as 2014 Most Valuable Employer for Military by CivilianJobs.com

    Local financial services firm Edward Jones in the Cullman-area was named a 2014 Most Valuable Employer (MVE) for Military by CivilianJobs.com, recognizing the firm's deep committment to recruiting, training and retaining military veterans as financial advisors.
     

    June 23, 2014

  • CRMC welcomes Harrison.jpg CRMC Welcomes Adam Harrison, DO to the Medical Staff

    Cullman Regional Medical Center (CRMC) is pleased to welcome Adam Harrison, DO to the Medical Staff. Dr. Harrison is originally from Cullman and graduated from Cullman High School in 2002. He obtained his bachelor of biomedical science degree from Auburn University in 2006, and attended Wallace State Community College prior to Auburn. He received his degree in osteopathic medicine in 2010 from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Georgia Campus in Suwanee, Ga. He successfully completed an internship through Columbus Regional Medical Center in Columbus, Ga., in 2011. He will complete his residency through UAB Family Medicine in Huntsville, Ala.
     

    June 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Deadly guardrails spearing drivers is whistleblower's crusade

    Harman is suing Trinity Highway and its Dallas-based owner, Trinity Industries Inc., alleging that it made quiet design changes that transformed guardrail systems across the U.S. into potentially deadly hazards.

    June 12, 2014

  • google-seo-search-results-screenshot.jpg Your new boss is going to Google you, so make sure she likes what she sees

    This is what a professional online reputation management "campaign" looks like: four people — one patched in via video — around a conference room table, jotting notes on laptops, carefully examining every trace of a client's digital existence and plotting a strategy to improve it.

    June 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Merchants Bank promotes 1.jpg Merchants Bank promotes four officers

    The Board of Directors of Merchants Bank of Alabama, a community bank since 1907, recently announced the promotions of four key officers.
    Kerry Hanvey was promoted from vice president of retail banking to senior vice president of operations. Kerry joined the bank in 1992 and has served in various positions over this 22- year period. Kerry is responsible for bank wide operations for the five bank offices.
     

    June 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • Chamber's June Small Biz of Month.jpg Chamber's June Small Business of the Month winner

    The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce recently awarded their Small Business of the Month award to Quick Tire Sales of Cullman. The award is given monthly to a local small business that meets nomination requirements. Victor Quick of Quick Tires Sales was thrilled for their business to be selected for this honor.
     

    June 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • $15 minimum wage puts Seattle in uncharted waters

    Depending on which pundit is nattering away, this means Seattle is either going to fall off the map and become a "Mad Max"-style economic wasteland or transform into an egalitarian utopia that inspires sweeping pro-labor activism nationwide.

    June 9, 2014