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Tech firms take lead in lobbying on immigration

Eric Lipton and Somini Sengupta (via NYT/ AFR) | May 6, 2013
The television advertisement that hit the air waves in Florida last month featured the Republican Party's rising star, Senator Marco Rubio, boasting about his get tough plan for border security.

Companies that provide temporary foreign workers say the move is intended to push them out of the American market.

These companies, mostly based in India, have far less good will on Capitol Hill. Their hope now rests with persuading lawmakers that it would be counterproductive to punish them.

"Why are we in the United States? We are there because American corporations want us," said Som Mittal, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which represents Indian companies. "We help them become competitive and serve their customers better."

In interviews, Rubio and an aide to Schumer said the draft bill takes a balanced approach to penalise those who do not hire American workers for jobs here. They say the proposal is good for the country, even as it may benefit American technology firms.

 

ZUCKERBERG AND GATES PUSH FOR CHANGE

In March, some of the biggest figures in the technology industry, including Zuckerberg, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the venture capitalist John Doerr, unveiled a new non-profit advocacy group, called FWD.us, with its first mission being to push Congress to overhaul immigration law. The group has hired lobbyists and a staff of veteran political operatives.

One of its first campaigns was to bankroll the television ad for Rubio. Two other ads backed Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senator Mark Begich, who is considered a critical swing vote, in a state where there are many critics of the legislation. Jesmer said the group spent "in the seven figures" on the ads.

Rubio has been a vocal ally. He says he understands the industry's need for talent and wants to prevent companies from having to ship work overseas.

To negotiate the details on the immigration bill, Rubio hired Enrique Gonzalez, who took a leave from a law firm that handles H-1B visa applications for many technology companies. Gonzalez said the assignment presented no conflict of interest because he works with universities handling visas, not technology companies.

The fact that technology lobbyists were given an unusual degree of access to the negotiators on the bill is entirely justified, he said.

"Because of the unique needs of the technology industry, the newness of it, the novelty of a lot of the issues they are confronting, I think that was why there were more engaged than some of the other industries were," he said.

 

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