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H-1B visa bill looks dead in the Senate

Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- A White House-backed plan to make it harder for Indian outsourcing companies to displace U.S. workers is moving through the U.S. House, but it's likely to hit a dead end in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats have little interest in addressing H-1B visas outside of a bigger immigration deal.

For Democrats, the concern is fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects from deportation more than 700,000 young people brought illegally into the country as children and which President Donald Trump has terminated.

For Senate Republicans, reluctance to advance the House's H-1B bill reflects a desire to draft a bigger bill that reduces legal immigration by curbing diversity visas and tightening chain migration, which allows immigrants to help family members come to the United States.

The House H-1B legislation, written by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., would make it harder for Indian outsourcing companies to send high-skilled foreign workers to the U.S.

The bill has bipartisan support, a significant feat for any immigration measure in Washington. It also was unanimously endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee, noteworthy considering the wide range of ideologies on a panel that includes Iowa Republican Steve King, one of the staunchest proponents to tightening America's immigration system, and Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez, one of strongest advocates of keeping DACA beneficiaries in the country.

The issue has drawn more attention as Walt Disney Co., Southern California Edison and the University of California, San Francisco, have been accused of using the H-1B program to lay off American workers.

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"The years of this problem becoming larger and larger has finally reached a point where Congress feels a mandate to act," Issa said.

But the H-1B issue competes for attention with other immigration matters. And Democrats are unwilling to cede their leverage to allow any legislation to move forward that could be seen as helping business groups keep their foreign workers –– or get more workers –– while letting young immigrants face deportation.

"Definitely not before DACA," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee and one of the original co-sponsors of a Senate proposal to tighten the H-1B system. "I doubt that revisions in H-1B are likely without some comprehensive immigration deal."

During his campaign, Trump cited stories of Disney using H-1B workers to replace U.S. tech workers. In April, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to propose changes to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid applicants. In November, his administration proposed ending work authorization for spouses of H-1B workers.


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