by Ailan Evans
Several immigration provisions tucked inside the Democrats’ spending bill are set to greatly expand the number of legal, high-skilled immigrants admitted to the U.S., handing large tech companies a major victory.
The provisions, included in the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, propose a number of changes to the immigration system intended to help relieve the green card backlog and admit more immigrants. The bill proposes “recapturing” green cards that were authorized but never actually issued due to administrative complications, as well as exempting visa applicants from numerical and country limits if the applicants pay a fee.
“The primary beneficiary of the immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act that significantly increase legal immigration are large corporations, mainly in the tech industry, who are heavy users of foreign labor,” Robert Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Law estimated that at minimum, 793,455 green cards would be issued through the recapture provisions. An analysis by the Niskanen Center estimated the number to be even higher, with potentially over a million green cards available to be recaptured through the spending bill’s immigration provisions.
“Because these provisions reward those who are already in the US, that will mainly be Indian and Chinese nationals on H-1B ‘high skilled’ worker visas and student visas who will capture the additional green cards,” Law told the DCNF.
Immigration reforms, particularly those involving high-skilled workers on temporary visas, have long been the subject of lobbying efforts by major tech players. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft all lobbied on high-skilled immigration issues and/or immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act, with Amazon specifically lobbying on issues related to green card recapture.
The companies have historically backed laxer immigration laws and non-immigrant visa programs, especially for high-skilled workers, with Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Netflix filing an amicus brief opposing former President Donald Trump’s ban on H-1b visas.
Microsoft President Brad Smith personally targeted the green card backlog that the immigration provisions seek to address in a 2018 blog post, calling for increasing the cap on green cards as well as abolishing per-country limits on visas. Silicon Valley-backed lobbying group FWD.us has also fixated on the green card backlog and called for reforms to bring in more high-skilled immigrants.
However, the tech industry’s use of foreign labor has drawn legal scrutiny. Facebook settled with the Department of Justice last month over allegations that it discriminated against U.S. workers in favor of temporary visa holders.
Proponents of the Build Back Better Act’s reforms say the green card recapture provisions would grow the U.S. economy and expand the tax base, generating more revenue for the federal and state governments as well as giving the U.S. a competitive advantage over China.
“Congress has the opportunity to recapture more than a million unused green cards through the reconciliation process, which would likely contribute approximately $1.080 trillion to US GDP over ten years and increase net revenue to federal, state, and local governments by approximately $463 billion,” wrote Jeremy Neufeld, immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center.
The Niskanen Center signed onto a letter co-signed by 95 organizations including technology industry group TechNet and sent to lawmakers urging the inclusion of the provisions in the final draft of the Build Back Better Act.
“Unless we magically produce STEM graduates or address our green card backlog, we will face an even greater shortage of talent,” wrote Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, who co-signed the letter.
However, critics worry about the effect of a sudden influx of high-skilled immigrants on the U.S. labor market.
“These are temporary workers for a reason, and study after study shows that tech giants pay them significantly less than American workers,” Preston Huennekens, government relations manager of the Federation for American Immigration Reform told the DCNF. “These changes would have a disastrous effect on the labor market for high-skilled workers.”
“Because many of these workers are willing to work for less pay, they would depress the wages of Americans and force skilled citizen laborers out of the labor market,” Huennekens said.
The Build Back Better Act is still awaiting a vote in the House where if approved it will go to the Senate. There, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough might strip the immigration provisions from the spending bill, as she has previously done for provisions that provided a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants.
However, the bill has struggled to gain support as both the moderate and left wings of the Democratic party have objected to various aspects of the legislation, collapsing vote talks late Friday.
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Ailan Evans is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.