By Peter Wallsten, Jia Lynn Yang and Craig Timberg, Tuesday, April 16, 6:12 PM
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg generated international attention last week for his entry into Washington politics. In launching a new political group, he positioned himself as a leading advocate to help aspiring entrepreneurs and other ambitious immigrants achieve the American dream.
Yet behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, Facebook lobbyists were engaged in another form of politics: pressing to insert a few new words helpful to Facebook’s business interests into a sprawling legislative proposal.
That would be the first time in the history of the world that immigrationist rhetoric was ever deployed in the service of special interests.
The deft maneuvering came during the drafting of the new bipartisan Senate immigration proposal being released this week. It underscores the rising clout of a young company that is following the road paved by such technology forebears as Microsoft and Google, moving from indifference toward Washington to persistent, sophisticated engagement.
The payoff on the immigration provision could be substantial, allowing Facebook and other technology companies to avoid a requirement that they make a “good-faith” effort to recruit Americans for jobs before hiring from overseas. Facebook could also sidestep proposed rules that would force it to pay much higher wages to many foreign workers.
... The new carve-out for Facebook and other firms, critics fear, could help companies evade the stricter proposed regulations being hailed by lawmakers as a way to crack down on abuses.
Facebook officials declined to comment on the specific H1B provision, instead couching the company’s lobbying on the issue as part of a broader push to improve the country’s economy.
Ask not what your Economy can do for you -- ask what you can do for your Economy.
... “Modernizing the immigration system so it helps the U.S. economy and responsibly promotes innovation is a top priority for Facebook and all of our tech colleagues,” Jodi Seth, a Facebook spokeswoman, said by e-mail.
If only Facebook's spokeswoman were named Jodi Sith.
“We are working with the Hill and others to explain how our businesses work and to make sure reforms don’t have unintended consequences that might undermine the purpose of the bill.”
I bet Facebook doesn't want unintended consequences. They paid good money to have the bill repurposed and they want what they paid for.
Facebook faces stricter regulations because the company recently surpassed a key legal threshold and is now considered to be “dependent” on H1B visas. The U.S. government classifies companies as dependent when more than 15 percent of their workers hold H1Bs. Facebook said it is “just over” the 15 percent line.
The new H1B regulations in the Senate deal are aimed largely at big outsourcing firms — most of them based in India — that employ tens of thousands of new H1B workers each year. More severe limits would be placed on companies with more than half of their workers on the visas, including stiff fees and an outright ban to take effect in 2016 on these firms hiring additional H1B workers.
... Then this year, as momentum built for an immigration bill, Facebook began pushing for an even broader exemption.
Working with lobbyists for Compete America, a trade group representing U.S. tech firms, Facebook helped secure a workaround: Any worker in the process of obtaining a green card “shall not be counted” toward the 15 percent threshold.
That means Facebook and other companies could file just enough applications to fall back below the 15 percent line. The language, pulled from a draft copy of the legislation, was reviewed by The Washington Post.
Supporters of the workaround said severe backlogs in the green-card program have left many workers for Facebook and other firms on H1Bs, driving up the companies’ percentage.
“We need to crack down on firms that abuse the H1B system, but some companies’ H1B number is inflated because their employees remain stuck in the backlog,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key architect of the new immigration plan. “It shouldn’t be seen as a company’s fault when the government simply takes too long to process green cards.”
In an op-ed for The Post last week, Zuckerberg questioned why there are not enough H1B visas for immigrants while introducing his new group, FWD.us.
“Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year,” Zuckerberg said, “even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return?”
... Joel Kaplan, the head of Facebook’s Washington office, was a senior aide in the George W. Bush White House, where he worked with his friend Cesar Conda, now chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a key immigration negotiator.
Kaplan was a driving force behind pressing the lawmakers to include the green-card exception, according to people familiar with the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.
... Without the exception, Corley added, some firms might be forced to pay foreign workers more than U.S. employees performing the same jobs.
You mean, without this exception, Facebook might, conceivably, have had an incentive to hire Americans? The horror, the horror ...
... Bruce Morrison, a lobbyist for U.S. electrical engineers, said the Facebook provision creates a substantial loophole. The measure requires only that green-card applications be at least “pending” — meaning U.S. government approval is not necessary for a temporary H1B worker to be classified as permanent by a company seeking to avoid stricter regulations.
“It could just be a matter of paper pushing,” said Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who wrote key pieces of the H1B visa law in 1990. “All you have to do is file a piece of paper, which doesn’t even have to be approved or approvable.”
Cecilia Kang and David Nakamura contributed to this report.