Business Groups Lobby Congress for Immigration Rewrite

Technology and agriculture group leaders say Congress’s five-week recess starting today will be a prime chance to lobby House lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.

Leaders of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the California Strawberry Commission said they are working together to show how labor shortages affect both low-skilled and high-skilled jobs as they pitch a broad rewrite of U.S. immigration law.

“We have an opportunity in time for comprehensive reform,” said Carl Guardino, president and chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “While it’s in our enlightened self-interest to meet our own needs, we need to do what is best for the economy as a whole.”

Guardino, whose group represents companies including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Yahoo! Inc., spoke today lunch in Washington sponsored by Bloomberg Government.

The congressional recess will give advocates a chance to focus on key districts, Guardino said. Even as visas for high-skilled immigrants top the Silicon Valley companies’ priorities, he said they aren’t seeking a bill that only benefits them.

The groups are primarily targeting House Republicans, who have said they will consider immigration bills in a piecemeal fashion later this year, instead of taking up the comprehensive measure passed by the Senate June 27. The bipartisan Senate plan would heighten border security and create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.

Unemployment Paradox

Agriculture, manufacturing and technology industries are struggling under a “paradox of high unemployment and major unresolved labor shortages,” said Steve Berglund, president and chief executive officer of Trimble Navigation Ltd. Trimble manufactures electronic navigation products using global positioning systems and is a member of the Silicon Valley group.

A shortage of farmworkers persists though strawberry pickers can make as much as $40 an hour during peak season, according to Lorena Chavez, a strawberry grower and representative from the California Strawberry Commission.

“There are jobs available, but it’s a skill and a choice and most people don’t want to go out in the field,” Chavez said.

While the Silicon Valley Leadership Group supports the Senate-passed immigration measure, S. 744, Guardino said the House could make improvements on issues affecting high-skilled jobs, including H-1B visas for temporary workers. The Senate bill would increase the annual limit on those visas to as many as 180,000 from 65,000, restrict the number available per company and increase filing fees.

Guardino said a House bill may be “more favorable” on technology issues because Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat representing Silicon Valley, is one of seven lawmakers of both parties negotiating the measure, which hasn’t been introduced.

“She’s going to nail the provisions for high-tech in that bill,” Guardino said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.