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Microsoft: Companies should pay Uncle Sam $10k per H-1B Visa to hire skilled foreigners

Oct 01, 20126 mins
Data and Information SecurityData CenterH-1B Visas

Microsoft says there are not enough highly educated Americans to fill U.S. companies' software engineer, programmer and developer employment needs. Microsoft proposed that companies pay $10k for each H-1B Visa worker and $15k for foreign tech worker green cards which would raise $500 million for education yearly. Microsoft said it would pay and called for an additional 20,000 H-1B Visas and 20,000 more green cards. Regarding education, the Redmond giant also called on Congress to invest $5 billion in the U.S. education system.

In the next 10 years, the U.S. is expected to add about 120,000 computer-related jobs that will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Colleges and universities are pumping out only about half of the needed graduates to meet those employment expectations. Microsoft chief counsel Brad Smith spoke at a panel discussing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and immigration policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “We are creating unfilled jobs. We have a shortage,” Smith said. “This shortage is going to get worse.” He added, “It’s a problem that’s approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis.”

The Seattle Times reported, “Faced with 6,000 job openings and Congress at loggerheads over whether to admit more skilled workers from overseas, Microsoft on Thursday offered a twofer solution – charging employers millions of dollars for the right to hire more foreigners and using the money for training to eventually fill those jobs with Americans.”

“American workers just aren’t good enough for Microsoft,” Latitude News interpreted of the Seattle Times article. It then added, “Hey, talented foreigners, Bill Gates wants YOU! To immigrate to the United States. But Uncle Sam says no, for now.”

There is a current annual cap of 65,000 H-1B Visas with large employers paying $1,500 apiece and thousands in various other fees, but Smith said the government should issue an additional 20,000 STEM-specific visas each year as well as 20,000 new green cards for tech workers. Smith’s proposal consisted of companies paying $10,000 for each worker they hire under an expanded STEM-specific H-1B visa program, and $15,000 for every green card issued to foreign tech workers. When added up, all those fees would bring the government an additional $500 million per year.

One of the reasons for Microsoft’s lobbying push, according to Smith, is that this year Microsoft reportedly has a 34% increase, or 3,400 job openings for researchers, developers and software engineers and programmers. Microsoft said it can’t find enough high-tech talented applicants to fill the jobs, especially in key areas like cloud computing and mobility. “The skill gap is one of the biggest problems Microsoft faces,” he said.

The Brookings Institution added, “Employers are often unable to fill high-skilled domestic jobs with high-skilled American workers. Further, there is a crisis brewing for the next generation – a growing gap between the few young people prospering and those left behind because they lack the education, skills and opportunities to succeed.”

This was far from the first time Microsoft has said it’s having a hard time finding workers who are skilled enough within the United States. In 2005, when urging the U.S. to end tech Visa caps, Bill Gates stated, “Anybody who’s got a good computer-security education, they’re not out there unemployed. We’re just not seeing an available labor pool.”

“Digging into Microsoft’s Layoffs,” the Seattle Business graphed Microsoft’s employee data from 2005 – 2010. Michael Cheery, an analyst for Directions on Microsoft, said of those numbers, “Periodically they adjust the number of employees. This falls within the normal changes that occur within the economic conditions. Microsoft is always looked for talented people, and they have lots of big projects underway and are active in lots of areas.”

But even Google had to lay off 4,000 workers from its Motorola Mobility unit – even though most of the workers were from outside the USA. Yet Microsoft has “adjusted” its number of employees via more layoffs in 2011 and 2012. Are all these people who lost their jobs simply not considered talented enough to be re-hired instead of fired and thereby justify hiring outside the American workforce?

If it is about education, then know that Microsoft also called on Congress to invest $5 billion in American school systems in the next 10 years. Is it a matter of not enough schooling, period, or does it delve deeper by not enough important STEM education classes starting early enough? Of course the economy is not exactly booming in some areas which continues the vicious cycle of budget cuts for teachers and schools even though it’s been called “cutting the future” by Bloomberg. Regarding computer science and related science and mathematics classes, should schools stick with experienced senior teachers or bring in the “new” cutting-edge and high-technology teachers? Bloomberg also quoted Chester Finn Jr., former secretary of education under President Reagan, as saying, “Just as some schools are dropout factories, there are teachers that are ignorance factories. You’re going to have to let some people go, so why not get rid of the people who aren’t getting the job done?”

Microsoft is not alone in calling for more computer science courses or in its proposal which Smith says is “supported by information-technology companies and trades groups.” A Microsoft programmer or software engineer’s typical salary ranges from “$100,000 to $120,000, plus a $20,000 signing bonus,” according to Smith. “Add $50,000 in stock options, plus the cost of an office and other expenses, and total cost might add up to $200,000.” Therefore he considers the “$10,000 fee for an H-1B visa a small one-time investment.”

Critics claim Microsoft wants to hire more foreign workers because they are cheaper to employ. Les French, president of the tech worker advocacy group WashTech, said in an email to Information Week, Microsoft probably has “6,000 jobs to fill because they are enamored of foreign labor. I doubt they couldn’t fill the jobs from the available labor pool in the U.S.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.