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Draper • Sen. Orrin Hatch joined a group of Utah entrepreneurs Friday to say immigration reform would actually create more jobs for Americans, and not displace them, by bringing in engineers that local high-tech companies need to expand.
Hatch and former Utah Republican Chairman Stan Lockhart said the right-wing of their party should stop blocking Senate-passed reform in the U.S. House by targeting anyone who speaks out for immigration reform.
"Why would we push people that we've educated who have master's degrees, Ph.D.s … out of this country when we clearly have need for them, and they clearly want to stay here?" Hatch said.
He especially is pushing a portion of immigration reform to expand H1B visas for highly educated immigrants. Quotas now limit them to 85,000 a year, and applications exceeded that again this year in the first five days forms were accepted.
Bassam Salem, chief business officer of Midvale-based inContact, said, "We are 620 employees, and we have something like 70 or 80 positions open right now that we cannot fill. We are constantly struggling," and Utah high-tech firms end up shifting around employees because they cannot bring in enough new ones.
Amy Rees Anderson, founder of Rees Capital, said she was forced to be creative to seek workers from other companies. "We would take an RV and park in their parking lots during lunch with a sign that said, 'Now hiring.'"
Darren Lee is executive vice president of Proofpoint in Draper, which hosted the event.
He said that while Utah high-tech companies compete fiercely, "There is one unifying thing, and that is a deep belief in the need for reform" on immigration to bring in the talent they need.
Hatch said a sticking point for reform is opposition by the GOP right wing.
"The fact is that the House is not going to pass immigration reform until after the primary season is over," he said, because the right wing attacks Republicans who favor reform.
"You saw what I went through with attacks" two years ago in his last reelection bid by people who "thought I was too liberal." Hatch said. "You can imagine what they would do to people who before primaries are willing to vote for any kind of a change to those [immigrants] who are in our country."
Lockhart, the former GOP chairman who is government affairs manager at Lehi-based IM Flash Technologies, said fights against reform boil down to beliefs that immigrants "are going to take our jobs," that companies seeking them "are all about driving the salaries of our employees down," and undocumented immigrants "are dirty rotten scoundrels" for not following laws.
"We've just got to go beyond a lot of those things because, first of all, most of it is not true," Lockhart said. "They [immigrants] just want the same freedom that all of our ancestors or forefathers sought when they came here to this country. And we should find a way to give it to them."
Lockhart is married to Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2016.
Lee said 30 percent of the H1B employees his company has "missed the lottery" to stay in the country. "We have an extension for 12 months. If they miss again, we have to now sponsor and help out with deportation."
That will drive an export of jobs, he said.
"These are core architects of our product line. I can guarantee you we will not be firing them. We will move their job off-shore" to their home countries but America loses taxes and his company faces complications and disruptions.
"If you look at Google, Yahoo, eBay, Intel, what do they all share in common?" Lee asked. "Each of them had a minimum of one founder who is an immigrant who came here for education purposes. Wouldn't that have been a shame if we … asked them to go somewhere else? That's what I'm facing."
The event Friday was one of nine nationwide over two weeks sponsored by FWD.us and the Partnership for a New American Economy. FWD.us was formed by such high-tech leaders as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Among co-chairs of the other group are Marriott Corp. chairman Bill Marriott and Disney President Bob Iger.