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The US government has yielded to industry bosses on some Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skilled-immigration issues, but less on others in a new bill meant to reform the existing immigration system.

A bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators released the highlights of the bill yesterday, after months of pressure from companies like Facebook and Google to make highly skilled worker hiring easier - because the tech bosses say there just aren't enough STEM-qualified Americans to fill the tech sector's roles.

Marc Apter, president of IEEE-USA, which represents engineering and tech workers, welcomed the changes in the green card system for STEM staff, but said the group was still concerned about changes to H-1B temporary visas.

“We appreciate that the Gang of Eight recognises that serious problems with the H-1B program can be resolved by more STEM green cards, delivered faster,” he said in a canned statement.

“In fact, the proposed increases in green cards make H-1B increases unnecessary. We’d like to see increases in STEM green cards become law as part of comprehensive immigration reform.”

IEEE-USA and other bodies have expressed concern that H-1B changes only benefit outsourcers and raising the cap on the visas isn't the best way to solve the US' staffing problems.

“Making outsourcers ineligible for H-1Bs frees up more than half of the supply for American companies, and there is no need to increase the cap,” Apter said.

"The bill substantially increases the numbers and streamlines the process of getting green cards for STEM workers and other skilled immigrants, so increasing H-1Bs is not only unwise, it’s unnecessary.”

“When did it become Congress’ job to ensure the profits of foreign companies hiring foreign workers to undercut American wages in the United States?”

But some tech firms have advocated raising the cap from its current 85,000 to as much as 300,000. At the start of the month, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post that the company had 3,400 high-paying, highly skilled job openings that it couldn't fill.

"This year, many employers and highly skilled potential workers are facing April 1 with increased anxiety since the US government again expects all the H-1B visas for the upcoming fiscal year to be snatched up in the first week," he said.

"This news further underscores the growing STEM talent crisis facing our country. It’s a problem that adversely effects every industry all across the US The American economy creates 120,000 new computer-related jobs annually that require a bachelor’s degree, but we are currently producing about 51,000 graduates with a degree in computer science each year."

The bill proposes raising the number of H-1B visas as high as 180,000 in future years, with 25,000 specifically for STEM graduates, but has provisions in place to address the concerns of folks like the IEEE-USA.

The document extends the Department of Labor's authority to investigate companies' decision to hire from abroad and requires firms to hire Americans before looking overseas. Companies will also have to pay H-1B visa holders higher wages. ®

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