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Lawmakers look at highly skilled immigrants

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration subpanel will take up the issue of highly skilled immigration on Tuesday at a hearing featuring representatives from the tech industry, academia and a group representing highly skilled immigrants.

With unemployment still hovering above 9 percent, comprehensive immigration reform remains a political third rail. But the calls for reforming the H1-B and other visa programs aimed at recruiting skilled workers for technology industry have increased. Complaints about the selection process have grown as the total number has remained at 65,000 while demand dropped by half last year.

Opponents of raising the cap on H1-B argue tech firms are looking for a discount on engineering talent and point to the skyrocketing valuations of firms like Facebook as evidence they can afford to compete with Wall Street for the top graduates.

Silicon Valley firms complain constantly that U.S. universities don’t produce enough math, science and engineering graduates to fill the available openings; many of the Americans that do graduate from those courses of study find themselves the target of aggressive recruiting and lucrative offers from the financial industry.

In addition, half of the postgraduate students in those fields at American universities are foreign and unlikely to obtain permission to stay in the country after they graduate. A number of measures have been proposed, including refocusing the diversity visa lottery program on applicants with PhDs to allowing temporary guest workers greater latitude to change employers to ensure they aren’t paid less than their domestic counterparts.

Supporters of measures such as a “startup visa” argue the U.S. is sending away the best and brightest rather than allowing them to stay and use their newly acquired skills to innovate and create jobs in the United States.

 

On Tuesday, A group of more than 70 thought leaders from business and academia will release its recommendations for the government’s adoption of cloud computing after lunch at the National Press Club. A panel featuring representatives from BMC Software, Cisco Systems, Adobe, Red Hat, and Harris Corporation will discuss opportunities to reduce costs and improve service by moving existing services and applications to cyberspace.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration will hold a morning hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on the economic imperative for immigration reform featuring NASDAQ OMX CEO Robert Greifeld, Cornell University President David Skorton and Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith. Also on the panel is Dr. Puneet S. Arora of Immigration Voice, which looks to alleviate the problems faced by highly skilled immigrants.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing at 11 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building on cybersecurity that will examine the government’s efforts to safeguard private sector networks deemed part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as the electric grid and nuclear power plants against, cybersecurity threats.

The hearing will be the first in a series that will focus on threats to industry as the House begins takes up comprehensive cybersecurity reform in earnest with legislation expected later this year. Witnesses include Government Accountability Office director of information security issues Gregory Wilshusen and Bobbie Stempfley, acting assistant secretary of the DHS Office of Cyber Security and Communications.

The House debate comes after the White House and Senate have spent the last year framing the issue with an emphasis on ensuring DHS has the necessary authority to ensure critical infrastructure firms comply with the mutually agreed upon security standards. House Republicans have shown some resistance to the White House plan’s proposed third-party auditing regime, while some prefer to leave the responsibility for detecting cybersecurity threats in the hands of the intelligence community and military.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security will hold a morning hearing in Dirksen on improving emergency communications 10 years after 9/11. Scheduled witnesses include Department of Homeland Security acting Deputy Under Secretary Gregory Schaeffer and representatives of first responders from Connecticut, Maine and Philadelphia. The creation of a national, interoperable public safety network was one of the primary recommendations of the 9/11 Commission following the communications difficulties experienced by first responders during the attacks.

The issue has gotten caught up in the debate over spectrum, as a split has emerged over whether to assign the valuable D Block of spectrum to public safety agencies or auction it off and use the proceeds to fund a separate network that would share commercial spectrum. A measure from the Senate Commerce Committee that backs D Block reallocation has gained some momentum, but members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on both sides of the aisle have indicated they favor auctioning the airwaves.

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