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US election could mean movement on high-skill immigration, copyright

Grant Gross | Nov. 8, 2012
Tuesday's election in the U.S. leaves President Barack Obama in the White House and maintains the balance of power in Congress. In many longstanding technology debates, policy experts see little movement forward, although lawmakers may look for compromises on a handful of issues.

Tuesday's election in the U.S. leaves President Barack Obama in the White House and maintains the balance of power in Congress. In many longstanding technology debates, policy experts see little movement forward, although lawmakers may look for compromises on a handful of issues.

U.S. voters on Tuesday again elected a divided Congress with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Democrats the majority in the Senate. Obama and some members of Congress may push for immigration reform, including an expansion of high-skill immigration programs, and expect some lawmakers to push for online copyright enforcement provisions, although likely to be different than the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) that failed to pass earlier this year.

But tech-savvy voters should expect a whole lot of nothing on several other issues. "If people vote for the status quo they shouldn't be surprised if they get it," Thomas Lenard, president of free-market think tank the Technology Policy Institute (TPI), said in an email. "Only thing that has changed is that Obama doesn't have to run for re-election. Whether that means he'll move toward the center, I don't know."

Here are some tech-related issues to watch out for in coming months:

Immigration: Several large tech companies, including Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard, have called for an expansion of the H-1B high-skill visa program and a loosening of restrictions on L-1 visas, used for intra-company transfers of employees from foreign offices to the U.S. Microsoft, in September, advocated new US$10,000 H-1B visas, with additional funds used for new education programs.

Immigration reform, addressing both high-skill and illegal immigration, may be an area where the Obama administration and Congress can find compromise, some tech policy experts said. Immigration reform should be among Obama's top policy priorities in 2013, said Kevin Richards, senior vice president for federal government affairs at TechAmerica, a trade group.

After the budget deficit, "I think that immigration reform is the new big-ticket issue for the president," Richards said.

Still, lawmakers have been reluctant to deal with high-skill immigration separate from illegal immigration, and illegal immigration remains a difficult, hot-button issue in Congress. While Congress may move forward on high-skill immigration, the "status quo in the White House could worsen prospects, Arlene Holen, a senior fellow at TPI, said in an email. "Despite claiming the importance of high-skilled immigration, they have been making it much harder administratively to get visas."

Copyright enforcement: Huge online protests in late 2011 and early this year sunk SOPA and PIPA, but expect the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other backers of stronger copyright enforcement to push for revamped legislation in 2013.

 

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