Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) stated his support for a highly-skilled guest worker visa program during a conference call on Monday. His comments gave the program a high-profile Republican backer as the tech industry worries about a potential crackdown on H-1B visas by the incoming Trump administration.
“High-skilled workers are essential to boost productivity and grow our economy, and in today’s global and technology-driven economy, business will go wherever human capital can be found,” Hatch said during the call, which was organized by the New American Economy Utah Coalition, a pro-immigration group.
“Failure to reform our high-skilled immigration system is forcing American companies to outsource their innovation centers to countries like Canada or India,” the Utah Republican added.
Tech companies are bracing for a sharp reduction in the issuance of H-1B visas, which allow foreign workers trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to live and work in the United States on a temporary basis. The program is a target of labor groups and some conservatives like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s choice for attorney general next year.
Rob Atkinson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told The Verge that a Trump White House will likely make H-1B visas “restricted, limited, and harder-to-get.”
Many Silicon Valley firms rely on immigrants in the United States under H-1B visas to staff their companies. FWD.us, a pro-immigration group backed by Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and other tech industry luminaries, argued during the presidential election that the H-1B visa program should be retained.
Hatch noted he had previously authored the I-Squared Act, a bill that he said “addresses the immediate need to provide American employers with greater access to high-skilled workers while also addressing the long-term need to invest in America’s STEM education.”
Critics of the H-1B program say it displaces American workers, and Hatch’s bill attempts to answer the need for more U.S. workers who possess the skills that tech companies need.
The bill, S. 153, would raise the annual cap for H1-B visas and increase funding for science, technology, engineering and math education programs in the United States.
Hatch’s bill was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators, but it has languished at the Senate Judiciary Committee since it was introduced in January 2015.