After health care vote, high-skill immigration debate returns to Congress

Immigration reform could increase the H-1B visa cap to encourage high-tech immigration and set student visas on a direct path to green cards

With President Barack Obama set to sign the health care bill on Tuesday, high-skill immigration issues are back in Congress and in court.

It is trying to convince the justices that the high-tech workers have been "foreclosed from applying for some American jobs," that have been reserved for students in the student visa program.

[ A House immigration bill would overhaul the H-1B visa program. | InfoWorld's Bill Snyder argues the H-1B visa has got to go. | Meanwhile, the Senate has approved strict rules on the hiring of H-1B workers. ]

The Bush administration extended the student visa "Optional Practical Training" program by 12 months to help relieve some of the demand for H-1B visas.

Schumer, who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, has favored increasing the H-1B visa cap but his "blueprint" doesn't offer a specific proposal for that visa, although a direct path to a green card for advance degree holders would take some of the pressure off H-1B visas.

Out of the 85,000 H-1B visas allowed under the cap, 20,000 of them are specifically set for students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees. Workers who are today applying for the H-1B visa could apply directly for green cards, under this blueprint.

The immigration reform legislation would also require every worker to "obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card" with a biometric identifier, which would be swiped by an employer.

The Obama administration has supported increasing high-tech immigration, and defends in court the Bush administration's decision to extend the student visas.

The government contends that tech workers don't have the right to challenge the visa extension because they weren't directly affected, and have "suffered no injury in fact because they cannot identify a job for which they were not hired, or from which they were fired. Instead, they assert that they suffer an injury from increased competition for jobs from nonimmigrants," the government said in its filing.

The Programmers Guild argues that the government is using the student visa beyond what it is intended for. The ultimate question, is whether the government has the power to bypass the cap in "order to ameliorate a perceived 'competitive disadvantage faced by U.S. high-tech industries,'" they wrote in a court brief citing part of the justification made by the government for extending the student visa work program.

The Supreme Court can decide anytime whether to consider this case next year.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about hiring/recruiting in Computerworld's Hiring/Recruiting Knowledge Center.

This story, "After health care vote, high-skill immigration debate returns to Congress" was originally published by Computerworld.