Obama, Tech CEOs Discuss Amnesty, More Guest-Worker Visas

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

On Monday, President Barack Obama met with members of the Technology CEO Council to discuss comprehensive amnesty legislation, which high-tech executives want in order to secure massive increases in guest-worker visas.

According to the White House, Obama met with CEOs from companies like Dell, Xerox and IBM and “highlighted our continued progress towards fixing our broken immigration system — including a final rule announced last week that gives U.S. work authorization to spouses of certain high-skilled immigrant workers who are approved for a green card and waiting for one to become available.” Obama and the Tech CEO council “agreed that immigration reform remains an imperative for our nation and high tech sector, and that we should continue striving for comprehensive reform that will fix our broken immigration system once and for all.”

Last week, the Obama administration, as part of its executive actions on immigration, awarded work permits to certain spouses of H-1B guest-worker visa holders.

But the tech industry wants more.

High-tech leaders have spent millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to secure massive increases in H-1B guest-worker visas, claiming a shortage of America high-tech workers even though numerous studies have shown that there is actually a surplus. While pushing lawmakers for more guest-worker permits and claiming a shortage of American workers, some of America’s most prominent tech companies like Microsoft have been laying off thousands of American high-tech employees.

Obama himself conceded that tech executives were being deceitful when claiming a shortage of American workers.

“I’m generally skeptical when you hear employers say, ‘oh we just can’t find any Americans to do the job,’” Obama said at an immigration event in Nashville shortly after announcing his executive amnesty. “A lot of times what they really mean is that it’s a lot cheaper to potentially hire somebody who has just come here before they know better…”

But Obama has championed a comprehensive amnesty bill with guest-worker provisions the tech industry covets. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have co-sponsored a guest-worker bill that would increase the number of high-tech guest-worker visas. They believe a high-tech immigration bill can be a “gateway” to a more comprehensive amnesty bill, but may face some roadblocks after ComputerWorld reported that Southern California Edison laid of hundreds of workers in favor of foreign guest-workers who are not more skilled than the Americans who had to train their replacements.

Republican lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) criticized Southern California Edison’s hiring practices, with Issa calling the report “deeply disturbing.” On the left, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) also said the H-1B program must be reformed to “stop these abuses.” 

Howard University Public Policy Professor Ron Hira, who found that high-tech companies were abusing the H-1B visa program after reviewing government data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, has asked Labor Secretary Tom Perez to investigate whether Southern California Edison was violating immigration and labor laws.

According to the White House, Obama, along with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Jeff Zients, Director of the White House Economic Council, and Megan Smith, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer, met with:

  • Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox Corp.; Chair of Tech CEO Council
  • Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO, Dell Inc.
  • Mark Durcan, CEO and Director, Micron Technology Inc.
  • Steve Mollenkopf, CEO, Qualcomm Inc.
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO, IBM Corp.
  • Joe Tucci, Chairman and CEO, EMC Corp.

Other topics included trade, cybersecurity, and tax reform.