We’ve known for a long time that Silicon Valley’s hope for immigration reform for high-skilled foreign workers is probably dead, at least until after the 2014 midterm election. Today, President Barack Obama has made it official: He won’t pressure Congress to pass a bill this year and is, instead, unilaterally taking a few actions on border security.
Speaking about the stance that Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) took on an immigration bill, Obama lamented:
“I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill. I think he genuinely wants to get something done. But last week he informed me the Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of this year.”
So, what does this mean for Silicon Valley? For the immediate future, there will be no major changes in the number of high-skilled immigrant visas to relieve the technology’s tech-talent shortage.
Powerful Silicon Valley lobbies could try to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority when a new Congress convenes next year. Back in 2013, the Senate passed one version of comprehensive reform, which included a big uptick in high-skilled worker visas. But since it failed in this Congress, it would need to pass it again in the new Congress after the election.
However, election forecaster Nate Silver predicts that the Republicans would take over the Senate in 2014, in which case it’s unlikely that the exact same bill would pass. So immigration reform would be back to square one with an unknown future.
Separately, there is now broad bipartisan support for high-skilled visas, including a new class of visa for startup founders. For years, Democrats have held back high-skilled-only reform because they believe the country will only get one shot at immigration.
If comprehensive reform is truly dead, it’s possible that high-skilled-only could be a plan b in the new year. That possibility is still in the concept stage, though.
For now, the most unproductive Congress in American history is living up to its name. And Silicon Valley’s billions are powerless in the face of Congress’s partisanship.