Briefing: May 16, 2013

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US Senate committee discusses immigration bill, H-1Bs

H-1B visa issues are among the items under debate during discussion of an immigration bill this week by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. H-1B visas are used by companies — including staffing firms — to bring in specialized professionals to the U.S. such as engineers and computer programmers.

The Washington Post newspaper reported the immigration bill’s proposal to increase the H-1B visa cap to 110,000 from 65,000 per year remained intact after a Senate Judiciary Committee discussion on Tuesday. The bill would also increase the cap to 180,000 depending on demand and unemployment. The H-1B question has competing interests with some legislators opposed to raising the cap and others expanding it even further, according to the story.

The TechServe Alliance is actively lobbying as the Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to continue today with discussion of modifications to the bill.

The organization had opposed an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to remove an “intending immigrant” exemption from the bill. Without that exemption, a firm with more than 15 percent H-1Bs could not place consultants at client sites. The amendment would have had a negative impact on IT staffing firms, but it was ultimately rejected, according to the TechServe Alliance. However, the committee did adopt another Grassley amendment that mandates additional information as part of a new Internet posting requirement. That requirement may be difficult for many IT staffing firms to satisfy within the prescribed time-frame, according to the TechServe Alliance.

More discussion on amendments is scheduled for today, and an immigration bill is expected to be on the Senate floor in June.

Discussion on the immigration bill comes as interest in H-1Bs appears to have risen. The H-1B visa cap was reached quickly in April, and H-1B visas were distributed by lottery because more applications had been received than were slots available under the cap. The last time that happened was in 2008. Demand had slowed for H-1B visas in the wake of the recession. It took approximately two-and-a-half months to reach the cap last year and seven-and-a-half months in 2011.

Federal law caps H-1B visas at 65,000. However, exempt from the cap are the first 20,000 H-1B petitions for workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher.

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