Microsoft (MSFT) still hasn’t made a formal response to that letter from anti-H-1B crusader Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) saying the company has a “moral imperative” to give preferential treatment to US citizens over H-1B workers as it lays off thousands. But this morning a company spokeswoman tells Bloomberg the company will ‘certainly’ be hiring more H-1B workers in the coming months, in what we believe is Microsoft’s first public acknowledgment since Grassley’s letter they’ll stick with the program.
- More from the Bloomberg story, an overview of the growing debate: Microsoft doesn’t really have a choice in its approach to H-1Bs: A Penn Law Prof notes that Grassley’s demand that Microsoft discriminate based on visa status probably violates civil rights laws.
- There’s been a marked shift in public opinion against the program. Intel (INTC) CFO Stacy Smith, who has lobbied in favour of the H-1B program in the past, acknowledges his company may back down its efforts to promote the initiative as layoffs accelerate. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), one of Congress’ biggest H-1B proponents, now says companies laying off workers should favour US citizens over foreigners.
But the Bloomberg story still misses an essential point about why the H-1B programs stir up so much outrage: Microsoft and Intel are companies using H-1B workers the way they were intended. The H-1B program was designed to recruit brilliant highly-educated foreigners for jobs where ‘no American can be found.’ And most people, no matter what training you give them, will never be able to design software for Microsoft or chips for Intel.
But the H-1B program is also being used to flood the market with cheap labour for jobs like systems integration, network design/maintenance, and database administration. These jobs — not at tech companies, but at the IT departments of large corporations in other sectors — are ones where there certainly are qualified US citizens, and opportunities for which laid off programmers can be easily retrained.
The irony of our current H-1B situation is Senator Grassley — who in his anti-H-1B grandstanding called on Microsoft to violate civil rights law — may have blundered into exactly the right way to start reforming a very troubled program: His latest initiative, now law as part of the stimulus package, bans the use of H-1B workers at banks taking TARP money, and not tech firms.