WASHINGTON DC: Representatives of Indian information technology companies must have heaved a huge collective sigh of relief and uncorked a bottle of champagne, when US Congress left for an extended recess. With no legislative activities for 37 days, now there is no chance of the Senate version of the immigration bill becoming law for, at least, the next three months.
Other than the staunch anti-immigration wing of the conservative movement, few have opposed the Senate bill, which was passed nearly six weeks ago, more vehemently than the Indian IT industry. The bipartisan bill S.744, also known as the “Gang of Eight bill” in reference to the eight senators that sponsored it, places severe restrictions on Indian IT services companies that are primarily dependent on non-immigrant H-1B and L-1 visas.
If it becomes law ”as it appeared until the bill ran into staunch opposition in the House ”visa fees are going to become prohibitively expensive for them; and some of these companies might not be able to hire any foreign workers on H-1B in a few years’ time. These companies fear that it will put a dagger in the heart of their business model.
The bill forbids companies with more than 50 employees and companies who have more than half of their workforce on H-1B visas from applying for any more after 2016. Furthermore, visa fees for such companies will rise as high as $15,000, while for other, smaller companies it will be $5,000 – still a fairly large amount.
The administration and supporters of the Senate bill ”among them, the U.S. technology industry ”had put intense pressure on the House Republicans to have a vote on the bill. The White House had even gone to the extent of suggesting a time frame for passing the legislation. After a meeting with some key business leaders in June, President Obama had said that he wanted the law to be passed before “the summer break.”
But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far shown no enthusiasm for giving its stamp of approval for the bill. Specifically, the GOP rank and file in the House is opposed to the path to legalization for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, a key component of the Senate bill.
But by not acting on it before the recess, the Republican leadership has ensured that there won’t be immigration reform legislation at least till late fall. Congress doesn’t reconvene until September 9. Even if the chamber decides to take up the immigration issue, the legislative process may take anywhere from a number of weeks to months.
What the House inaction means for Indian companies is it buys them time to recoup and devise a new strategy. Unlike the Senate, the House leadership prefers a piecemeal approach to immigration.
Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the running mate of the last Republican presidential nominee Paul Ryan summed up the general view of the Republican House.
“We don’t support the Senate bill,” Chairman of the House Budget Committee and the running mate of the last Republican presidential nominee Paul Ryan told CBS on Sunday. “We have been listening to the American people. So what we’re going to do is take a step-by-step approach to get immigration right, not a big massive bill but separate bills so people know what’s in these bills.”
Under the current circumstances, even if the House gets serious about immigration in the fall, the bill’s contours are likely to be different from the one passed by the Senate and approved by the White House, judging by the rhetoric of the House GOP leadership on the issue.
In the meantime, the administration and its allies continue to push bill. On August 1, the White House released a detailed state-by-state report that suggest that every state of the union will benefit should Congress adopts a “commonsense immigration reform” bill.
Touting a study, the report pointed out that a bill similar to the one passed by the Senate will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and boost economic output across the country. For instance, in 2014 along, it will create 77,070 new jobs in California, 43,097 in Texas, 33,476 in New York and 22,032 in Florida, it said.
In addition to groups that have been campaigning for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. technology industry is also lobbying hard to make sure that immigration reform, as an issue, will remain alive through fall and beyond, regardless of whether the House takes up bill or not.
Even a significant section within the Republican Party, in theory, agrees on the necessity of passing the legislation so that it doesn’t allow the next Democratic presidential nominee to mobilize the Hispanic and other minority votes in 2016.
As members of Congress spend the recess with their families and constituents, there is no question immigration will be one of the issues they will be constantly hearing from both supporters of the S 744 and its opponents, as well as lobbyists from the two sides.
But unlike the Senators, members of the House are less susceptible to lobbying on national issues, as most of the House seats are gerrymandered in such a way that most of the time candidates don’t have to pay attention to anyone other than powerful groups within their constituency.
And for most Republican congressmen, the groups that they really listen to are the vocal conservative interest groups, who are generally anti-immigrant, that mobilize primary voters.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, the saying goes. The Indian IT industry’s biggest allies at the moment are these groups. In their heart of hearts, industry leaders maybe hoping that these groups will continue to prevent their local congressmen from having a change of heart.