WASHINGTON – The immigration reform bill now before the U.S. Senate aims to bring hundreds, if not thousands, more high-tech foreign workers to Minnesota.
The bill introduced Tuesday incorporates portions of an earlier bill introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., that raises the national cap on employment visas for high-skilled foreigners from 65,000 per year to 110,000 per year, with the ability to rise to 180,000 per year under certain economic circumstances.
Klobuchar says those measures are necessary because there are not enough Americans with science, technology, engineering and math skills to fill high-tech jobs in Minnesota or around the country.
Although not part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who introduced the immigration bill, Klobuchar tried to take an active role in so-called “high-skilled” immigration reform. At issue is how to attract and keep foreign workers in critical U.S. jobs that might otherwise go unfilled.
To facilitate that recruitment, Klobuchar’s earlier bill also pushed for the right of spouses of high-skilled foreign employees to work in this country and to exempt certain high-skilled foreign workers or their families from annual limits on the issuance of green cards that grant permanent legal U.S. resident status to foreigners.
These and other provisions of Klobuchar’s Immigration Innovation Act were rolled into the larger more comprehensive reform bill, along with a Klobuchar-authored provision that lets foreign physicians training in the U.S. stay beyond their medical residencies if they will practice in underserved areas.
“I’m pleased with how this came out,” Klobuchar said in an interview. “I worked really hard with the Gang of Eight.
“We got the bill in there pretty much intact.”
Overall, Klobuchar said, “American workers are protected, but at the same time [the bill] opened up the door to get the H-1B visas and the green cards to a level where we aren’t just training ... the next inventor and then sending him back to India to invent the next Google.”
While most of the criticism leveled at immigration reform surrounds the ability of low-paid illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, recruitment of foreigners into good-paying, high-skilled jobs is not without controversy.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which represent hundreds of thousands of American high-tech workers, question whether increasing high-skilled employment visas will help the U.S. economy as much as it helps companies that use the visa program to hire lower-paid foreign workers.
The immigration bill as introduced requires all companies to advertise jobs for 30 days on a Department of Labor website to attract American applicants. It also requires companies to pay foreign workers at levels comparable to what Americans would make for the same job.