May 14, 2013, 3:34 PM — WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday began debate on more than 300 amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill, including a number of changes to sections on H-1B visas.
The debate put focus on sharp divisions that appear to pit U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a leading critic of the H-1B visas, against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has emerged as one of the leading tech industry supporters.
A key issue involves the amount of effort employers must make to hire a U.S. worker before filling a job with a visa holder. There are also concerns about the amount of power the U.S. Labor Department and other agencies will have to audit and enforce visa usage.
Hatch wants far more H-1B visas then the maximum 180,000 cap in the immigration bill and fewer rules about recruitment. Grassley is his polar opposite on this issue.
"We need to do a better job of protecting American workers," Grassley said. He wants a provision in the law to ensure that all H-1B employers make a "good faith" effort to hire U.S. workers first. The immigration bill only requires H-1B-dependent companies, meaning those with 15% or more of their workforce on visas, to make such an effort.
Tech industry groups oppose the recruitment and audit rules in the immigration bill.
Robert Hoffman, a lobbyist with the Information Technology Industry Council, argued on Twitter today that: "There were 84 players from 37 countries in the NBA at start of season. Should Congress require NBA to hire Americans first?" (Committee hearing hashtag is #CIRmarkup).
Hatch warned that H-1B restrictions could sink the broader bill.
"There's a whole high-tech world that's getting up in arms if we don't do this right and they alone can make this bill very difficult to pass," Hatch said. "I hope my colleagues will work with me on this."
The committee's work is expected to run over several days. Grassley won a committee vote on one change.
The immigration bill requires the U.S. to set up a national jobs database to be operated by the Labor Department. Employers would be required to post jobs for 30 days that they want to fill with H-1B workers.
Grassley said the proposed law only requires an employer to disclose wages, the education and experience needed, and the process for applying for the job. His amendment, approved by voice vote, also requires the title and description of the position, the location of the job, and the name and zip code of the employer.