Hatch, Schumer Reach Deal on High-Skilled Workers in Immigration Bill

Rebecca Kaplan and Fawn Johnson

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch have reached a deal on visas for high-skilled workers that should ensure the Utah Republican's vote for the immigration bill in committee.

An aide to Hatch said the senator was still awaiting final language on the deal before signing off on the agreement, but the deal reached with Democrats accepts most of his conditions for supporting the bill in committee. He has said he has other finance-related amendments he intends to offer on the floor that will need to pass for his continued support.

According to another aide, the deal came together in the minutes before the beginning of Tuesday’s markup, which Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., says could conclude as early as today. Just an hour before the markup began, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told National Journal the Gang of Eight was still working to reach a deal with Hatch.

Hatch had offered several provisions related to the number of visas for skilled workers as well as the high-tech community’s ability to access them. The amendments put him at odds with Durbin, a Gang member who was concerned the program would put American workers at a disadvantage.

The agreement, details of which were shared with National Journal by an aide familiar with the agreement, accepts several of Hatch’s amendments with some additional protections built in for American workers. For example, the agreement accepts the Utah senator’s amendment that determines the formula for increasing H-1B visas based on employer application levels, but the new modified version bars any increases if the unemployment rate in the affected professions is above 4.5 percent in the previous year.

It also narrows the requirement that employers offer a position to an “equally qualified” U.S. worker to H-1B dependent employers.  

A source close to the negotiations said the amendments could be formally offered in committee this afternoon.