In a sign of progress, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill yesterday by a wide margin, 68 to 32.
Though prospects of the same bill surviving the U.S. House of Representatives are pretty slim, two provisions that affect your ability to hire are likely to persevere.
One increases the number of visas the government grants annually to skilled foreign workers. The other requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to insure workers are U.S. citizens. Both pose challenges.
More Work Visas for Foreigners
Entrepreneurs in disparate industries from landscaping to software development have long bemoaned the lack of employees they say are available to do their jobs. In this go-round, due to aggressive lobbying from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the current bill allows for an increase in H-1B visas for specialized and advanced degree foreign workers. That visa number is currently capped at about 90,000 annually, and is usually met within months. Bringing in more skilled foreign workers is controversial, since the U.S. also has home-grown computer engineers, many of whom say they can't find jobs themselves, but the proposal seems to have a growing bi-partisan consensus.
The Senate bill would increase the cap of H-1B visas to about 200,000 annually. There is momentum around increasing the H-1B limit in the House too. Last year, Representative Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a bill to ramp up the number of visas granted to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities. That bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee with overwhelming Republican support on Friday, would increase the H-1B cap and provide for 55,000 more greencards for such workers.
Electronic Verification of Authorized Foreign Workers
Less controversial for the Republican-dominated House is the mandatory use of E-Verify, a free, online federal database of people eligible to work in the U.S. It's currently voluntary to use, and so far only about 400,000 businesses do so. Some states, such as Arizona and Mississippi, already require small business owners to use it to verify their workers are citizens authorized to work in the U.S. A proposed amendment by Representative Rob Portman (R-Ohio) would require all U.S. businesses to use it within four years of passage.
But many small entrepreneurs fear the system is complex and will increase their administrative burden for hiring. One recent estimate, from Bloomberg Government, says E-Verify would increase small business hiring costs by billions of dollars. The system is also reportedly rife with errors, which have resulted in the firing of numerous employees who are, in fact, eligible to work in the U.S.
Entrepreneurs hope Congress will ultimately strike a balance. "More work is needed to limit unintended consequences of the [E-Verify] program for small businesses," wrote three entrepreneurs from Main Street Alliance in a recent editorial. They are David Borris, owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, Illinois; Cristina McNeil, owner of Office Web International in Boise, Idaho; and ReShonda Young, corporate VP of Alpha Express in Waterloo, Iowa.
They continued: "A bipartisan group of Senators--Franken, Lee (R-Utah), and Hirono (D-Hawaii)--have worked together on another small business amendment, this one requiring that E-Verify error rates be held at or below current levels, and delaying mandatory participation for small businesses if they are not."