Mike Isaac

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As Immigration Reform Bill Heads to the Senate Floor, the ZuckerPAC Gets a Win

Facebook News Feed EventChalk up a win for tech industry talent-seekers.

In a bipartisan vote reached on Thursday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that aims to radically overhaul much of current U.S. immigration policy, which could ultimately increase the number of highly skilled tech industry workers allowed visas to work inside of the U.S.

The bill, which passed through the committee by a vote of 13 to five, is now headed to the floor for debate, where it is expected to be deliberated upon through the summer.

It is, in particular, the first small victory for FWD.us, the political action group formed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and supported by a cadre of such tech industry luminaries as LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and famed venture capitalist John Doerr.

To be sure, Zuckerberg’s group is far from the only lobbyist group aiming for immigration policy reform in Washington, nor should it be solely credited for swaying the final decision. But in Silicon Valley at the moment, it is perhaps the most visible.

“With its 13-5 vote to support comprehensive immigration reform, the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken another crucial step forward to growing a knowledge economy,” Joe Green, FWD.us founder and president, said in a statement to AllThingsD. “This comprehensive bipartisan legislation contains the key principles we support, and its passage is another important step in the right direction.”

“It’s clear that the momentum continues to build in favor of commonsense immigration legislation — and FWD.us will continue to advocate for comprehensive, bipartisan reform that will attract innovators, build prosperous neighborhoods with strong families and good jobs, and ensure the U.S. continues to lead the world in the growth of the knowledge economy,” Green said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

In a grand mission statement published on the editorial page of the Washington Post when FWD.us launched, Zuckerberg reasoned that the need for his group was to create change in areas like education, long-term economic issues and, most of all, immigration issues.

“We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants,” Zuckerberg wrote in the Post article. “And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.”

Since launching the group in April, FWD.us has spent its money lobbying aggressively for immigration reform in particular, backing lawmakers who have expressed support for changes in the current legislation.

Though not all of FWD.us’s supporters were comfortable with the group’s lobbying tactics. After it came out earlier this month that FWD.us had bankrolled ads for immigration-reform-friendly legislators who also supported controversial environmental policies like Arctic oil drilling and the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, FWD.us lost two high-profile supporters; Tesla CEO and green energy proponent Elon Musk withdrew support, along with Yammer founder David Sacks.

The immigration policy changes FWD.us is pushing for in particular would ultimately benefit many high-tech companies who want better access to recruiting foreign engineering talent, much of which is currently restricted by the number of H1-B visas granted to foreign workers on an annual basis.

“This is about jobs. Period,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, told AllThingsD in a statement. “A highly skilled workforce helps Internet companies grow here at home and hire more Americans. For each worker an Internet company hires under an H1-B visa program, they are able to bring on as many as 12 American workers. … This is a win for the knowledge economy and we look forward to this process moving forward.”

The legislation was held up in the Senate Judiciary Committee until Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) agreed with dissenting members of the committee to hold off on adding an amendment to the bill which would have allowed certain provisions for gay couples.

Sen. Leahy told the New York Times that he withheld his amendment “with a heavy heart.”

The efforts of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Uah) in particular were instrumental in including a last-minute amendment that would benefit the tech industry. His amendment, which the Times said was agreed upon late in the deliberations, would increase the minimum number of high-tech H1-B visas allowed annually.

The office of Sen. Hatch did not immediately respond to a telephone request for comment.

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Leahy and a bipartisan group of eight Senators, the legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee with a strong bipartisan vote is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system,” President Barack Obama said in a statement issued on Tuesday evening.


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