Microsoft Appeals for Work Visas

August 7th, 2011
in econ_news

programmer Econintersect:  The last week in July, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, urged lawmakers to ease restrictions and immigration laws for skilled overseas workers.  Smith addressed the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.  This comes as U.S. universities are graduating fewer computer science majors.  Smith was quoted by Information Week as saying there were 58% more computer related bachelor's degrees in 2004 than in 2008.  Another problem, according to Smith, is that about 1/3 of the technology graduates from U.S. universities are foreigners who return home after graduation.

Follow up:

Here is some more of what Smith said, from Information Week:

Smith said that although the overall unemployment rate is higher than 9%, the rate for IT workers in the U.S. is 4%, below the government's 5% definition of full employment. "What is clear is that our country is operating with a dual unemployment rate." Microsoft this spring provided $6 million to help launch Washington STEM, a privately funded organization that aims to boost student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math in schools in Washington state.

But the problem goes beyond education, Smith said. Until more Americans are available to fill hi-tech jobs, U.S. immigration policies need to be relaxed to make it easier for companies like Microsoft to import workers to fill the gap. "Our continued ability to help fuel the American economy depends heavily on continued access to the best possible talent. This cannot be achieved, and certainly not in the near term, exclusively through educational improvements to 'skill up' the American workforce."

Microsoft wants the federal government to raise the cap on employment-related green cards, which presently sits at 140,000 per year. It's also pushing for the elimination of country-specific caps that limit the number of individuals that can emigrate from certain countries. The software maker is most concerned that the caps disproportionately affect India and China, both of which have trained millions of new tech workers in just the past few years.

But, not everybody ageed with Smith.  Not surprisingly, a union representing computer technology workers has maintained that Microsoft simply does not want to pay the higher salary fo the experienced domestic technologist.

Also,from Homeland Security News:

Ronil Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who was also present at the hearing, argued that skilled foreign workers are taking jobs in the technology industry that would otherwise go to U.S. workers.

“For at least the past five years the employers receiving the most H-1B and L-1 visas are using them to offshore tens of thousands of high-wage, high-skilled American jobs,” Hira said.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized the executives and asked that American companies focus on hiring Americans first before turning to foreigners.

“Why is it so much to ask for your company to look for American workers first and foremost?” Grassley asked.

“I’ve spent a lot of time and effort into rooting out fraud and abuse in our visa programs, specifically the H-1B and L visa programs. I have always said these programs can and should serve as a benefit to our country, our economy and our U.S. employers,” he said. “However, it is clear they are not working as intended, and the programs are having a detrimental effect on American workers.”

But other sources say that there is a skills shortage in the computer industry.  From Information Week:

Some third-party observers believe the United States is facing a legitimate shortage of tech workers. Matt Ferguson, CEO of job site, said his site had 30,000 open tech jobs listed in July. Many of them required candidates with five or more years of IT experience. "We don't have people in the economy that have five years experience in engineering and IT to fill those positions," said Ferguson, speaking Thursday on CNBC.

Ferguson said workers with skills in specialized areas, such as the Ruby on Rails Web application framework, are in high demand. "Talking to companies anecdotally, you hear that they are having a very hard time finding these actual skills," said Ferguson, who noted that salaries for individuals with such skills are seeing double-digit percentage increases.

Sources:  Information Week here and here; Homeland Security News

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