President Barack Obama’s planned changes to the U.S. immigration system don’t go far enough to satisfy the nation’s high-tech sector, which has been demanding more visas, especially those known as H-1B, nor were all advocates of immigration reform in general pleased.

“I would have preferred a bipartisan solution.,” said Harvey Schmitt, chief executive of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

Chambers in general support changes in immigration.

“This will simply add to the intensity of the debate that has made immigration reform a political free-for-all rather than a rational response to a real problem,” Schmitt added.

Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists had sought broader changes. Among the highest-profile Triangle leaders calling for immigration reform is Jim Goodnight, chief executive of SAS Institute, who spoke out publicly in July alongside Schmitt about the issue. He says his company and others need more opportunities to recruit workers.

A recent study also concluded that immigration caps cost the Triangle more than 2,000 jobs.

Outspoken immigration advocate Vivek Wadhwa, a former Triangle entrepreneur and now a widely published author, said the president did as much as he could, but much work remains to be done.

“The president has done practically everything in his power to address the needs of the technology community,” said Wadhwa, who has published immigration-related studies and stories both in academia, such as Duke University, and through publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. (Wadhwa also is a frequent contributor to WRAL TechWire.)

Wadhwa in particular likes a change that will enable H-1B workers to change jobs, giving them greater leverage in seeking wages. He believes the change will defuse a common complaint against H-1Bs: Creating downward pressure on wages.

The White House released information Friday saying Obama’s changes would lead to economic and wage growth. Those figures are not universally accepted.

Meanwhile, Republicans scrambled to formulate a strategy in response to the president’s plan.

In Silicon Valley, where Wadhwa now lives, critical headlines included this from The Verge, a popular tech news web site:

“Obama’s immigration plan comes up short for Silicon Valley”

“President makes it easier for foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay in the US, but technology executives say it’s not enough”

While Wadhwa said Obama “didn’t let down” Silicon Valley, he noted much work remains to be done. But Wadhwa is worried that the political fallout from Obama’s arbitrary action will inflame the immigration debate with Republicans to an even hotter intensity.

“It will take many years for the wounds to heal from the battles that will now start,” he warned.

Critic: Rewarding ‘undocumented advocacy’ community

A Reuters story noted that dissatisfaction among others was much greater.

“This holiday season, the undocumented advocacy community got the equivalent of a new car, and the business community got a wine and cheese basket,” an unnamed lobbyist told the news service.

Tech firms such as Facebook, with founder-CEO Mark Zuckerburg leading the way, have pressed hard for more green cards and H-1B visas.

“If this is all there is, then the president has missed a real opportunity,” Russ Harrison, a senior legislative representative at the IEEE, an organization for Internet engineers, told Reuters. “He could have taken steps to make it easier for skilled immigrants to become Americans through the green card system, protecting foreign workers and Americans in the process.”

Venture capitalists like parts of plan

The National Venture Capital Association’s top executive, Bobby Franklin, said he sees benefits for start-ups in Obama’s action.

“We are pleased to learn the president intends to expand visa opportunities for venture-backed entrepreneurs who all too often lose out in the race to secure U.S. visas,” Franklin said in a statement.

“By targeting solutions to help foreign-born entrepreneurs build their businesses in the U.S., President Obama has made clear he understands the important role the entrepreneurial ecosystem plays in our economy and is prepared to do all he can to ensure the U.S. remains the global hub of innovation.”

However, the NVCA wants issues for other types of work visas beyond the H-1Bs to be addressed.

“Because of the unique nature of small start-up companies, H-1B visas are not as useful to the start-up community since they are most often issued to larger companies that have the financial resources and technical know-how to secure visas for their workers,” the NVCA explained.

“Small, venture-backed start-up companies are much better served by the expansion of other visa categories such as the O-1A visa, which is granted to a temporary worker who ‘possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics,’ or the E-2 visa, which permits an entrepreneur to raise private capital to start a business in the U.S.” 

No start-up visa

Wadhwa has been a big proponent of the “start-up visa” plan designed to help entrepreneurs remain in the country, and he was disappointed with what steps Obama did take.

“What the president didn’t announce was an increase in the numbers of temporary and permanent resident visas and a proper start-up visa,” he said. “This is a big concern because these are the core needs of Silicon Valley. It needs more highly skilled workers and tens of thousands of new start-ups.”

Reuters quoted one spouse of an immigrant tech worker who could benefit from Obama’s changes since she too can now seek employment.

Wadhwa describes spouses of H-1B workers as living in a “purgatory,” denied a chance to work.

“Highly skilled professionals – mostly women – have seen their careers stagnate and been confined to their homes because they were not allowed to work,” he says. “The administrative order authorizes work visas for the spouses of immigrants who have filed for permanent resident visas.”

How Obama’s changes were declared Thursday in some ways makes matters only worse, he noted. 

“The extreme wing of the Republican Party is now likely to go on the warpath because the president used his executive privileges and cut them out of the decision process,” he added. “So, this executive order may be the last progress we see on immigration for many years – until the anger has subdued.”

In a statement as quoted by Reuters, organized labor’s AFL-CIO wasn’t pleased by all of Obama’s actions, either.

“We are concerned by the President’s concession to corporate demands for even greater access to temporary visas that will allow the continued suppression of wages in the tech sector,” the union said.

So what’s next?

Much work remains to be done on immigration issues, the NVCA’s Franklin acknowledged.

“We still believe that congressional action is the best way to deliver meaningful and substantive reform that will finally address the problems plaguing our antiquated immigration system,” he said.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue with our outreach efforts on Capitol Hill and at the White House to secure a legislative solution. As an industry that prides itself on optimism, we disagree with those that say this level of collaboration and compromise is no longer attainable in today’s Washington and remain hopeful agreement can be reached in the coming year.”