But the increase in H-1B visas was accompanied by new requirements aimed at ensuring American workers get the first shot at jobs. High-tech industry leaders say they never agreed to those provisions; Durbin insists they did.
Once the bill language became public last month and tech industry officials began absorbing the details, they turned their attention to the next front in the battle: the Senate Judiciary Committee.
They found their champion in Hatch, whose state is an increasingly significant high-tech employer. Fortuitously, he had maximum leverage. Viewed as the one Republican swing vote on the committee, he was courted by the senators who wrote it, Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., among them.
Even as the tech industry remained largely supportive of the legislation in public, its lobbyists began working behind the scenes with Hatch's office on a series of amendments he would introduce in the committee to undo key provisions Durbin had pressed for.The industry objected to using the unemployment rate in determining how much the number of H-1B visas could increase. One Hatch amendment would have taken the joblesss rate out of the equation. A provision that required tech companies to offer a job to an equally qualified U.S. citizen over an H-1B holder was seen as unworkable by industry. Hatch sought to limit that requirement to companies most dependent on H-1B visas, thereby excluding many major U.S. companies. The bill sought to bar companies from displacing a U.S. worker within 90 days of filing an application for an H-1B visa. Hatch alao sought to limit that requirement to heavy H-1B hirers. Durbin objected to the changes. Unions, which had been largely quiet on high-tech issues while focusing on other priorities including a pathway to citizenship and a separate visa program allowing lower-skilled workers into the U.S., also spoke up in opposition.