Aggressive and unprecedented lobbying by Silicon Valley paid off last week, as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration bill that will be a boon to the high-tech sector.
Among the provisions Silicon Valley secured in their efforts to shape the contentious immigration debate were huge increases in the limit of H-1B visas, from 65,000 to up to 180,000 a year, and the awarding of permanent resident green cards to any foreigner with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from a U.S. school who is offered a U.S. job.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) emerged as a key ally for the tech industry. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who sided with big labor in opposing some provisions Silicon Valley sought, says the tech industry “really used Senator Hatch’s vote to improve their position in the bill. I understand that. But I think in fairness now, I hope the industry is satisfied and they will not push this any further.”
Hatch defended his position. “Look, these are companies looking to contribute to the American economy in a way that benefits American workers and American-trained foreign workers,” said Hatch.
High-tech heavyweights like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Al Gore’s business partner, John Doerr, are part of a coordinated Silicon Valley effort to push for immigration reforms that benefit the industry’s heavy reliance on foreign computer scientists. Zuckerberg’s political advocacy group, Fwd.us, has hired Republican and Democratic communications strategists to advance its message. The Wall Street Journal says the group aimed to raise $50 million.
Last year, Facebook spent $4 million on lobbying, an increase 20 times greater than its 2009 lobbying expenditures. Industry-wide, tech companies last year spent a record-breaking $132.5 million on lobbying.