Microsoft’s (MSFT) recent mass layoffs have lawmakers revisiting: How many H-1B (skilled immigrant) workers does America need?
Barack Obama said last year (before the credit crisis and ensuing financial mess) that he supports expanding the H-1B program. But at least one vocal opponent of the program, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), is using high-profile layoffs like Microsoft’s to stir up new opposition to the program.
Grassley recently sent a letter to Microsoft demanding to know how the layoffs will affect the company’s American vs foreign workers.
We won’t delve too deeply into the H-1B debate. Proponents of expanding the program and bringing more skilled tech workers note there’s a lot of positions American companies have a hard time filling if they can’t recruit foreigners, and H-1B workers make American companies more efficient. Which is true. Critics say the program depresses wages in the IT sector, and can make it substantially harder for laid off IT workers to find new employment, with macroeconomic consequences. Also true.
However you feel, expect the issue to return to politics with force. Grassley’s letter to Microsoft excerpted below:
It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs. To that effect, I would like you to respond to the following questions:
- What is the breakdown in the jobs that are being eliminated? What kind of jobs are they? How many employees in each area will be cut?
- Are any of these jobs being cut held by H-1B or other work visa program employees? If so, how many?
- How many of the jobs being eliminated are filled by Americans? Of those positions, is Microsoft retaining similar ones filled by foreign guest workers? If so, how many?
- How many H-1B or other work visa program workers will Microsoft be retaining when the planned layoff is completed?
My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa program employees over qualified American workers. Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce. I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention. Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.
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