Why is Mark Zuckerberg in D.C.? It's not what you might think.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, not so much to discuss Internet issues but immigration reform, a top Silicon Valley priority.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits for audience questions in an onstage interview for the Atlantic Magazine in Washington Wednesday.

Mark Zuckerberg is set to meet with House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday, but the meeting will not focus primarily on the Internet privacy issues that have shaken Facebook or the government surveillance programs that have vexed the online industry. Rather, the pair are mostly talking immigration. 

Many Silicon Valley giants want immigration reform because it promises more high-skilled foreign workers though a revised H-1B visa program. But while a bill sponsored by the bipartisan "gang of eight" made it through the Senate in June, the House is deadlocked.

There is hope that outside bipartisan groups might help move immigration reform forward, and Mr. Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill to add his weight. His meetings with Mr. Boehner and several other Washington lawmakers this week are to promote comprehensive immigration reform on behalf of FWD.us, a Silicon Valley-backed organization he helped to co-found. The lobbying group – which is backed by Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer and Microsoft's Bill Gates – seeks to "promote policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy."

Right now, FWD.us's main focus is immigration reform.

But how much clout does FWD.us have?

The group has already faced a sharp learning curve in navigating Washington politics: FWD.us came under criticism shortly after it launched for trading political ads supporting Republican causes – such as the Keystone XL Pipeline – for Republican support on immigration reform. 

A sense of mistrust also surrounds technology companies advocating for immigration reform. Increasing the number of H-1B visas they can grant could possibly take away jobs from US workers.

FWD.us has since reoriented to better address political realities, said Zuckerberg during an interview with the Atlantic in Washington. FWD.us now has three organizations: an umbrella policymaking team, as well as separate Democratic and Republican policy camps.

“There’s been a lot to debug in making this work,” Zuckerberg said.

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