Beyond Gridlock: Agency Policymaking and the Coming Disruption to the H-1B Ecosystem

To read the headlines and listen to the pundits, one can be forgiven for thinking that Congressional gridlock will leave the immigration landscape unchanged for the foreseeable future.  Even President Obama’s recent executive actions face serious roadblocks in the court system.

But, recent activity in Washington suggests we may be looking at some significant changes in business immigration policy within the foreseeable future.  While Congress may be bogged down and unlikely to move any immigration reform – whether comprehensive or incremental – the Administration and federal agencies are moving on several fronts.  Some of the actions by the Administration could prove disruptive to the H-1B ecosystem and likely to produce some winners and some losers.

The good news is that the groundwork that TechServe has laid over the years –including through our annual lobby day which brings dozens of members to Washington, DC to meet with key policymakers—has positioned us well to weigh in on behalf of industry interests.  In short, our advocacy – your advocacy— can help shape the business environment you operate in for the years ahead.

How do we do that?  Several ways: TechServe staff builds long-term relationships with key policymakers and staff; TechServe staff and members serve as a reliable resource to policymakers on business immigration issues; TechServe engages in thoughtful advocacy that advances members’ interests and helps create a positive impression of our industry.

As we set the agenda for our annual lobby day in June, we are working in a dynamic environment.  The Administration has recently moved to ease approval of L-1B specialized knowledge visas and will be looking to grant work permits to H-4 spousal visa holders.  USCIS will be looking to provide greater clarity on adjustment portability, including removing “unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression and general job mobility to provide relief to workers facing lengthy adjustment delays.”  In other words, many TechServe members may have greater access to IT talent in the Green Card queue.  On the Congressional front, Senator Hatch (R-UT) has reintroduced his bi-partisan “I-Squared” bill that would expand the H-1B program, while opponents including Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley (R-IA) are highlighting abuses in an attempt to thwart those efforts.

While there are a lot of immediate issues that TechServe can have a positive influence on, it’s always important to keep in mind the long-term benefits of our lobbying efforts.  The most effective advocates build long-lasting, constructive relationships with policymakers and staff that can pay dividends later.  For example, even though immigration reform stalled in Congress, TechServe’s lobbying helped establish us as a reliable resource and laid the foundation for good working relationships with key staff.  Two of those Congressional staffers are now with the Administration and are involved in directing the relevant department and agency efforts on business immigration policy.  Thanks to our advocacy efforts, we know that our industry’s perspective is considered during the development of new policies.

Important, too, is your role.  However effective a Washington-based lobbyist can be, policymakers want and need to hear from real people – their constituents.  A business person who can explain the real world impact of policy decisions on real people can have tremendous influence on how policymakers perceive an issue.  That’s why TechServe needs your involvement in our advocacy efforts.

Any advocacy program is bound to have wins, losses and partial victories.  But, the reputation TechServe develops and the relationships we build help us influence policy and ensure a positive business environment, including an H-1B ecosystem that serves the interests of our industry, the clients we serve and our nation.

Your role is critical, and I’m looking forward to you joining us in June in Washington, DC if you are able.  If not you, who?