Bruce Richards, senior vice president and chief legal officer, Manhattan Associates

As the U.S. Senate voted 82-15 to formally debate immigration reform in Washington, some of Atlanta’s foremost immigration attorneys were discussing the possible impact of the legislation on Indian nationals hired by global companies in the U.S.

Mitch Hunter, managing director of the public affairs firm Garrett McNatt Hennessey & Carpenter 360 LLC, announced the vote at the beginning of a panel discussion June 11 held at the downtown offices of the immigration law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP.

A former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey from Georgia’s 11th congressional district, Mr. Hunter said he also heard that House Speaker John Boehner had indicated there was a chance immigration reform would be completed by the end of the year.

Such comments, he said, provide a glimmer of hope that immigration reforms might actually be passed, but what would be viewed as good policy decisions are apt to be buried under politics.

“Republicans mainly lead with border security first and the pathway to citizenship,” he said. “Not on the basis of good policy. So they won’t lead on the issues but rather on the politics.”

While the debate nationally may be focused on the security of U.S. borders and the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, this seminar was focused on hiring details that are of the utmost concern to high-tech and software firms such as Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates, a supply chain software provider with offices in nine countries and clients around the world.

Mr. Hunter added that issues such as increasing quotas on work visas become bargaining chips between the political parties with “the potential of blaming each other instead of making reforms.”

The major concerns of global firms, however, are commercial, such as the restrictions on the number of H-1B visa holders they can hire. These visas are temporary work visas granted to foreign workers such as nurses and information technology professionals who have specialized skills.

The Senate bill calls for their number to be increased from 65,000 granted annually to 110,000, which U.S. high-tech firms favor as much as the Indian software firms.

The panelists generally praised provisions allowing spouses of H-1B visas to get work authorizations, and special exemptions from quota restrictions for employees with advanced degrees or extraordinary individuals.

Daryl Buffenstein, a managing partner at Fragomen, raised the pay scale issue lodged in a provision enabling the U.S. Labor Department to determine what companies should pay as “a fair wage.”

“The government seems to be saying that we will raise quotas, but you will have to pay (the holders of H-1B visas) perhaps more than market value,” he said.

In response, Bruce Richards, senior vice president and chief legal officer of Manhattan Associates, addressed the challenges facing his firm.

“There is a shortage of highly skilled tech workers in the U.S. who have to be supplemented by recruiting, and we recruit 365 days a year, he said. “We are always looking for the best and the brightest in the U.S. and abroad.”

Given the concern of the government that companies seek to hire programmers from India because they can pay them less than their American counterparts, Mr. Richards indicated that the Labor Department’s role probably was not to require above market rates but to ensure that these workers aren’t paid below market rates.

Nevertheless, he said he was concerned about provisions restricting the numbers of foreign skilled workers a company can employ.

A provision that would limit the work a company can do at a client site if more than 15 percent of its employees have H-1B visas could possibly force companies to conduct more of their activities offshore, he added.

“We are a global company,” Mr. Richards said of Manhattan Associates. “Half our workers are outside the U.S. with product to serve the world. We have H-1B visa professional service teams that go to client sites because the clients don’t have the technical resources to install our products.”

Participants in the seminar also included Ajit Kumar, consul general of India based in Atlanta, Ani Agnihotri, chair, USA India Business Summit; Tino J. Mantella, president, Technology Association of Georgia; Deborah Marlow, partner, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP; Kristin Aquino-Pham, associate, Arnall Golden Gregory LLP; Blake Chisam, partner, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP; Barbara Hodgdon, senior manager, human capital, Ernst & Young LLP;

David Moskowitz, tax senior manager, human capital, Ernst & Young LLP; Weyman Johnson, senior counsel, Paul Hastings LLP; Kevin Miner, partner, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP; L.S. Narasimhan, CEO, Paalam Inc.; Mark Newman, partner, Troutman Sanders LLP; Helen Kim Ho, executive director, Asian American Legal Advocacy Center Inc. of GeorgiaAdriana Varela, foreign attorney and manager, Global Client Services, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP.