One plan would be to create a point threshold for qualification. Of course, qualification would not equal instant immigration. With caps, candidates could remain on a waiting list for years.
The second approach would be a scoring system that ranks candidates, placing them in order on the immigration list.
Either way, Siskind believes the point-based approach will have a negative impact on the high-tech industry, to the detriment of both employers and employees.
The current approach to labor certification requires employers to state who their candidate is, establish that they attempted to recruit within the U.S., and verify that they will pay a competitive wage for their candidate's services. The point system would dispel this process, including the guarantee that employers are attempting to recruit U.S. workers. As for employers, they lose the ability to define specific needs.
"It's not good for anybody. There is nothing strategic about it. It just limits our immigration to smart people, but that is all it requires," Siskind says.
Kim Berry, president of The Programmers Guild, also expresses concern about the merit system, noting that currently an H-1B visa holder cannot convert to green-card status unless the employer demonstrates that no U.S. citizens are available and willing to fill the position. Berry says this minimal protection of the American worker will be lost.
"Now, even if unemployment exceeds 10 percent in some professions, Congress will continue to flood in workers with no labor market test," Berry says.
Nevertheless, UC Davis' Matloff believes replacing the current employer-sponsored policy with a point system would reduce the de facto indentured servitude that foreign workers undergo as they wait years for a green card.
"Since this exploitability is one of the two main ways employers currently use to get cheap labor from the H-1B program, the proposal would benefit American programmers and engineers," Matloff contends.
Up for debate
It is too early in the process to know how the provisions of Senate Bill 1348 will ultimately play out in the high-tech sector, especially as many political pundits believe the House of Representatives' version of the bill will be so different that the final compromise bill may not in fact see the light of day in this session of Congress. Moreover, the Senate Bill itself is in flux, with a flurry of amendments under consideration; in fact, many of the sections discussed above may under significant before the bill is finalized.
Whatever the verdict on Senate Bill 1348, the atmosphere around immigration reform will assuredly remain charged. And as we get closer to the primaries, politicians will likely drum up more rhetoric while looking to forego putting themselves on record with substantive votes.