THE BLOG
05/20/2013 06:50 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Immigration Reform: Stand Down IT, Lobbyists!

For all the numbers bouncing around the immigration reform debate -- the Senate bill is 844 pages!; it will cost trillions!; 11 million undocumenteds will have a path to citizenship! -- the most relevant number is 27 percent. That's the share of Gov Romney's Latino vote and that's the reason this much needed advance in public policy might just make it over the legislative goal line.

But if it is to do so, both sides will need to engage in an extremely careful balancing act. Immigrant advocates need to embrace the realization that absent real border control and employer verification, there is no viable reform. And to their credit, they've done so.

Those who've opposed immigration reform need to recognize that immigrants who are already here need to be wholly integrated into the labor markets and communities where they already work and live, and many former opponents have made this leap.

But one area where some in this debate continue to resist the needed balance is around the concerns of domestic workers and immigrants already here regarding competition from new immigrant flows, including guest workers. I found this piece from today's New York Times to be a good example of the type of overreach that could tilt the delicate balance and scuttle the deal.

The piece describes ways in which the IT industry, which got a lot of what they wanted in the draft bill, now wants the bill amended in ways that would enable them to employ more guest workers with less oversight from new rules designed to protect domestic workers against unfair competition.

The industry achieved its main goals in the draft Senate bill: an easing of the green card process and an expansion of the number of skilled guest worker visas. That draft, though, includes language that it considers excessive regulatory oversight of when a company can hire a temporary foreign worker and lay off an existing American worker.

The bill significantly kicks up the number of guest-worker visas under the H-1B program and importantly, shifts the rules on permanent residency to focus more on the skills immigrants bring to the national table versus family connections. Silicon Valley lobbyists have been lobbying for these sorts of changes for decades, and with this draft, they've been highly successful. As one Congressional aide put it, "Overall, tech has gotten, by any metric, the best bill they've ever seen on this issue in terms of H-1Bs."

So why are they risking upsetting the Apple [sic] cart instead of applauding from the sidelines? Because, at the insistence of labor and other groups representing IT workers, the bill also includes safeguards against abusing the guest worker programs, replacing perfectly good domestic workers with cheaper immigrants, not offering prevailing wages, artificially boosting labor supply in the field, and seeding the "offshore-outsourcing" industry with guest workers.

Look folks, everybody's not going to get everything they want here, and this part of the bill in particular -- the guest worker part (which I like the least... what the h-e-double-toothpicks is a guest worker?!?!) -- was the result of a very delicate set of negotiations between business and labor. So stand down IT lobbyists, before you queer the damn deal!

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.

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