Grassley's position on H-1B called ‘protectionist'

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is leading an effort to make H-1B visas available to more workers.

WASHINGTON - India and the tech industry view any type of restrictions on the H-1B visa as "protectionist" -- and so does Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Hatch is leading an effort to raise the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000 and eliminate the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, education and math) field. And he has bipartisan support for this effort.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) won't let any H-1B legislation move forward unless it plugs loopholes that allow the displacement of U.S. workers, and gives hiring preference to them, as well. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is in a key position to shape any immigration legislation and this week vowed not to let H-1B legislation through this committee unless it includes worker protections.

Grassley's position could not be clearer. Nor could Hatch's.

"It's absurd to think that in this global marketplace we can maintain an insular, protectionist workforce," said Hatch spokesman J.P. Freire in a statement. "Senator Hatch and his co-sponsors will be laying out the facts in coming weeks, and setting the record straight on the absolute economic need for I-Squared. We look forward to the debate."

April 1 marks the start of the filing season for H-1B applications, but the weeks around this date have also served as a rallying point for lawmakers to talk about the visa issue. It's entirely possible that Grassley will introduce his own legislation that will include his reform goals.

A big question for Hatch and Grassley is whether the White House will act on any H-1B bill, should something be approved in both chambers.

A White House policy official, Cecilia Munoz, said this week that the administration's "very strong preference" is to consider an H-1B bill as part of a comprehensive reform bill. Notably, Munoz didn't categorically dismiss the idea of a stand-alone bill winning the president's consideration.