Tech Sector Leads the Lobbying Charge for Immigration Reform

PHOTO: Ballmer

Since the last significant immigration reform effort in 2007, no industry has been more involved in lobbying on immigration than the tech sector.

Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash.-based software titan, has led the way on this issue, and it's joined by a host of other tech titans like Oracle, Intel and Facebook. Together, this group is making a concerted effort for changes that would allow them to tap into a pool of highly-skilled immigrant workers to staff positions in the United States.

See also: 5 Economic Reasons We Need Immigration Reform

For that reason alone, the influence of the tech industry is poised to be a major factor in securing passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, according to some advocates.

"I would say they are riding the wave," said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. He added that the work of the tech industry combined with conservative and Republican support for immigration reform, "may be the special formula that gets us across the finish line."

Over the past half-decade, immigration has become one of the most frequently lobbied issues by tech companies on Capitol Hill. Industry activity ramped up around the last effort at comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. Since that bill failed to pass Congress, tech companies and others have continued to court lawmakers and federal agencies on unresolved issues, such as expanding the number of visas for highly-skilled immigrants.

It's clear that the lingering problems with the nation's immigration laws, such as hard visa caps, have hurt the high-tech sector. A study released by the Kauffman Foundation last October showed that the proportion of tech start-ups founded by immigrants has shrunk by one percentage point to 24.3 percent since 2005 and is on the verge of further decline.

"For several years, anecdotal evidence has suggested that an unwelcoming immigration system and environment in the U.S. has created a 'reverse brain drain.' This report confirms it with data," Dane Stangler, research and policy director at the Kauffman Foundation, said in a statement. "To maintain a dynamic economy, the U.S. needs to embrace immigrant entrepreneurs."

The U.S.'s immigration system has put it at a competitive disadvantage with many countries that have adopted policies that welcome foreign entrepreneurs to start new businesses, including its next-door neighbor Canada. On April 1, that country will begin offering special visas for foreign entrepreneurs to join venture capital firms or found start-ups of their own.

This is why Microsoft, which spent more than $8 million on all lobbying efforts in 2012, listed immigration issues in 33 separate disclosure reports, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Intel spent more than $3.7 million on lobbying last year and listed immigration in 12 separate reports. And industry groups, like the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), also have played a major role. CEA spent over $2.8 million last year and lobbied on immigration issues at least on 12 separate occasions. Overall, nearly two dozen high-tech companies and associations lobbied on immigration issues in the last 12 months.

As they have for years, tech companies rely heavily on foreign-born software engineers. While the unemployment and underemployment rate remains high for Americans, there are not enough highly skilled people who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to fill vacant positions at science, technology, and engineering firms.

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