Bill To Restrict Highly Skilled Foreign Workers Could Affect Washington Tech Companies

Jan 17, 2017

A new immigration bill introduced in Congress last week could affect technology companies in Washington state.

Companies like Microsoft and Amazon often hire through the H-1B visa program, which allows highly skilled workers to come to the U.S.

Critics of the program say that many of the immigrants who come to the U.S. on the H-1B are brought in as cheap labor to replace American workers. Now, a lawmaker from California has introduced a bill that would further restrict the number of visas given out each year.

That could be a problem in a state like Washington where there aren't enough people who can fill those jobs, according to Michael Schutzler, the CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association.

"They get brought in because they have subject-matter expertise and they're geniuses. They're not brought in because they're cheap labor," Schutzler said. "On the contrary, in the tech industry, when [people on] H-1B visas get brought in, they tend to be some of the highest-paid employees."

With fewer paths to immigration, economic development here could suffer, he said.

Tech companies have recently been calling for immigration reform to address some of these talent issues.