So Where Are We on H-1B Visas?

Here we are one week ahead of the presidential election, and it’s still clear as mud what the result could mean for one issue of great interest to HR: the future of employment-based immigration.

Athinkstockphotos-523158854s I wrote in our Sept. 2 cover story, the prospects for employers are not especially positive either way. With trade agreements in the political crosshairs and rising concern about how foreign workers may put residents out of work, this is not a good year to promise companies more access to talent from abroad.

But both candidates have been elusive on the subject. This spring, for example, GOP  nominee Donald Trump appeared to stake out contradictory positions, first proposing a higher bar for companies sponsoring worker visas and later announcing that “I’m changing,” recognizing the need for skilled workers, particularly in the tech industry.

More recently, Politico’s Morning Shift blog points out, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Trump surrogate, suggested in Iowa that a Trump administration might stop issuing H-1B visas entirely.

“We shouldn’t be bringing in people where we’ve got workers,” he said at a campaign event, according to the Des Moines Register. “I don’t think the republic would collapse if it was totally eliminated.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has kept a low profile on the issue, though she appears more open than her rival to supporting the tech industry’s need for workers. Her campaign, for example, promises a President Clinton would support “stapling” a green card to certain advanced degrees earned in the U.S. by foreign workers in STEM fields.

But neither candidate addressed the issue in the three presidential debates, leaving companies that depend on foreign workers left to guess what policies they might pursue.

As befits a story important to the tech industry, there is a way to use data to get a sense which candidate might be best for the industry. The data-heavy political blog 538 this week looked at contributions from Silicon Valley to the two campaigns.

With 95 percent of the money from these donors, Clinton outdistances Trump by a huge margin. That might signal optimism about her policies on employment-based immigration.

Or it could mean something else entirely. After all, Silicon Valley is in the heart of ultra-blue California.