By ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Senators finalizing a massive immigration bill are arguing over plans to boost visas for high-tech workers, Senate aides and industry officials say, with disputes flaring over how best to punish companies that train workers here only to ship them overseas.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who's taken the lead in pushing to crack down on outsourcing firms, also is seeking higher wages for workers brought in on the H-1B visas that go to specially skilled foreigners, aides and officials say. High-tech industry officials say his efforts risk punishing companies not involved in the abuses he's trying to target, and lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are taking the other side.
The dispute comes as aides to four Democratic and four Republican senators have been racing to put the finishing touches on sweeping immigration legislation that would secure the border and grant eventual citizenship to 11 million people here illegally, while also allowing tens of thousands more high- and low-skilled workers into the country on new visa programs.Aides worked into the evening Monday on the high-tech visa issue, and senators were to resume meeting in person Tuesday after returning to Washington from a two-week spring recess. They were hoping to complete their legislation this week, though next week may be looking more likely. The high-tech visa question loomed as one of a few remaining unsettled matters. At issue is overwhelming demand from companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google for the H-1B visas, which are now capped at 65,000 annually, plus 20,000 more that are reserved for foreign workers who have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. university. On Friday, the Homeland Security Department announced that after less than a week of accepting applications, it already had received more requests than visas available for the 2014 budget year.