"If these outsourcing firms were not bringing in the entry level [workers], or they didn't have such a big pool of H-1B visa people available, then I think it opens the doors to making IT an attractive occupation once again, which I think is so important for an innovative economy," Keane said, in an interview.
The session was organized by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are the Senate's two leading H-1B critics. The Senate is considering a bill to raise the 65,000 H-1B cap to 300,000 under a graduated increase formula, and eliminate a cap altogether for advanced degree STEM graduates, students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That H-1B cap for STEM graduates is set at 20,000.
The Senate staffers also heard from Systems in Motion CEO Neeraj Gupta, a domestic IT services company with a development office in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"American IT jobs continue to be 'offshored," Gupta said, in his remarks. "While our H-1B and L1 visas make a valuable contribution to the U.S. economy, they are also "enabling" the offshore industry and creating a competitive disadvantage for domestic organizations."
Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who participated in the session, said the forum raised the H-1B visa as a competitive issue for U.S. companies.
"This is what's new -- it isn't just American workers criticizing the H-1B program. Now you have CEOs making the strong case that the government is tilting the playing field against them for hiring American workers," Hira said.
Durbin and Grassley have proposed a number of restrictions to the program, including limiting any company's use of the H-1B visa to half of its workforce. They have also been interested in changes that would end the lower tier of the prevailing wage rate.
Among the ideas Gupta suggested was to set higher pay for H-1B workers. Keane would like to see eliminating the H-1B visa for entry level workers.