Code & Conduit Podcast: So You Wanna Revamp Tech's Favorite Visa? Get in Line


President Donald Trump’s proposal for a merit-based immigration system has caught the eye of a tech industry that’s still anxious over prospects for using foreign hires to fill its high-skilled talent gap.

Trump unveiled the plan in his Feb. 28 address to a joint session of Congress. The merit-based plan – which lacks specifics as to how tech-related skills may be prioritized for border admission – is the latest option to emerge as Congress and the executive branch consider how to tailor high-skilled immigration inflows.

The tech industry has long argued for more H-1B high-skilled visas to help fill their ranks with scientists, technologists and engineers. But Trump and his advisors have also criticized the visa as undercutting American workers and pushing down wages.

Meanwhile, there’s been a proliferation of ideas for reshaping high-skilled immigration, including two House bills from Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), respectively; a Senate bill from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); a bill in draft stages from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and a leaked copy of a draft executive order from Trump’s team.

While tech companies might be on board with some ideas in the proposals, such as increasing the number of times they are issued annually, other aspects, such as restrictions on how many H-1B employees can be hired, are sure to meet resistance.

The addition of a merit-based scheme was welcomed by the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group that represents companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Twitter Inc. Countries like Canada and the U.K. that utilize a merit system assign points to foreign visa applicants based on education, skills and abilities such as language proficiency.

Growing the U.S. economy means growing the innovation economy, an industry that supports more than 15 million jobs, Gary Shapiro, CTA president and chief executive officer, said in a statement after Trump’s address.

 “That starts with embracing a merit-based immigration system that gives American companies the best talent so they can compete globally,” he said

Bloomberg BNA tech and telecom reporters Lydia Beyoud and Michaela Ross talk about the tech industry’s stake in the H-1B immigration debate and why these visas have become controversial for the latest edition of our Code and Conduit podcast.

You can read more of Michaela’s reporting on our tech, telecom and internet blog or on Bloomberg Law. If you liked what you heard in the podcast, sign up for a free trial of Bloomberg BNA’s legal and regulatory news and content.

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