By ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ More than any other group, the high-tech industry got big wins in an immigration bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, thanks to a concerted lobbying effort, an ideally positioned Senate ally and relatively weak opposition.
The result amounted to a bonanza for the industry: unlimited green cards for foreigners with certain advanced U.S. degrees and a huge increase in visas for highly skilled foreign workers.
And thanks to the intervention of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the industry succeeded in greatly curtailing controls sought by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., aimed at protecting U.S. workers.
In exchange, Hatch voted for the bill when it passed the committee, helping boost its bipartisan momentum as it heads to the Senate floor next month. For Durbin and his allies in organized labor, winning Hatch's support was a bitter victory.
"There was an agreement with the tech industry and Sen. Hatch said he wanted more, and that was what it took to get his vote," Durbin said in an interview.
The tech industry "really used Senator Hatch's vote to improve their position in the bill. I understand that," Durbin said. "But I think in fairness now, I hope the industry is satisfied and they will not push this any further."
Hatch countered: "Look, these are companies looking to contribute to the American economy in a way that benefits American workers and American-trained foreign workers."
Even before the Judiciary Committee took up the bill, industry had seen key pieces of its wish list granted. The legislation written by four Democratic and four Republican senators awards a permanent resident green card to any foreigner with a job offer in the U.S. and an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. It also raised the limit on the H-1B visas that go to highly skilled immigrants from 65,000 a year to as many as 180,000.