Grassley hits Microsoft on layoffs

Microsoft Corp. should lay off temporary foreign workers hired under the H-1B visa program before it gives pink slips to American employees, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has said.

Microsoft announced Jan. 22 that it would be laying off 5,000 employees, including 1,400 workers to be let go immediately. The number of H-1B visa holders among that group was not disclosed.

“The purpose of the H-1B program is to help companies hire foreign guest workers on a temporary basis when there is not a sufficient qualified American workforce to meet those needs,” Grassley said in a statement. “However, the program is not intended to replace qualified American workers.”

In recent years, Microsoft executives have actively lobbied for expansion of the H-1B visa program that covers highly-skilled foreign workers, along with executives from many information technology contractors such as Boeing Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co. The current cap on those visas is 65,000 annually.

In past years, IT industry executives have claimed that more H-1B visas stimulate the economy and improve competitiveness. However, some IT workers in the United States oppose H-1B visa expansion because they are worried about depressed wages.

For the last two years, the demand for H-1B visas has exceeded supply. With the economic downturn, Microsoft and other IT companies have had layoffs and it is not clear what the effect will be on H-1B demand. The application deadline for the visas is April 1.

Grassley has been a long-time critic of H-1B visa expansion and has brought attention to the program’s relatively high fraud rate. A study by the U.S. Citizenship and Immgration Services Agency estimated 20 percent violation rate in the H-1B visa program.

“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,” Grassley wrote Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer on Jan. 22.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Sun, Jun 14, 2009 sjdude Silicon Valley

electriceyezcu2: "If U.S. citizens are wondering where their jobs went or why, then maybe we do need to have our butts handed to us." I don't wonder: My cost of living is 6-10 times what it costs in India, so my job went there because Indian "productivity" is many times greater than mine. This is economic productivity, not the actual measure of my work product vs. an Indian counterpart. I would kick their butt, but cheap Federal Reserve dollars have inflated our cost of living so much that I can't afford to compete with India. anonymous: "Govt. should encourage more IT training and build good citizens for filling high paying IT jobs." I'm sick of the "more training is the answer" stupidity. If I go back to school and get a PhD in Computer Science, I will then be qualified to compete with $15/hour PhD's from China. What good would that do me? As long as the Federal Reserve gets to inflate the cost of living for America, we cannot compete internationally because people in India and China can live on 1/10th of what it costs us to live. I understand all too well where my job went and why, there's just not much I can do about it.

Thu, Feb 5, 2009 aristotlerulz OC

The National Science Foundation site 2003 survey shows 12% of college grads in science and technology, that means 88% of college grads are not interested in technology, the BLS web shows a large percentage of layoffs as auto related, it seems most assembly line workers are likely not interested in or trained for technology jobs, although they can retrain if they wish, they do not have an immediate skill set and not all IT jobs are fillable by assembly line workers. It appears global distribution of skilled technology workers and demand are more at issue for H1-B's.

Wed, Feb 4, 2009 Shanna New York City

It seems unthinkable that american companies continually seek and congress grants permission to import workers while the country's employment stats are so dismal(including highly qualified workers). Until the stats of the US economy and jobs are stable and in a repetitive growth pattern, there should be no imports into the job market.

Wed, Feb 4, 2009 electriceyezcu2

The reality is that U.S. companies face continuously increasing competition from around the world.
To stay competitive and viable, both U.S. and foreign companies need access to the best and brightest talent pools available. For U.S. companies, U.S. based talent pool resources are very limited, or simply not available.
Compared to the majority of industrialized countries, the U.S. education system as a whole is at best embarrassing, with very few exceptions, or hope for improvement. Mediocrity, not excellence continues to be the tone set so that no one is left behind in our “politically correct” driven U.S. society. Heaven forbid that we actually make available resources to assist those U.S. citizens that truly are gifted and leverage their abilities and skills towards hardening our competitive global stance.
No, instead we invest in making sure that no one is offended, or left behind.
Companies are not in business to be charity organizations, or are they intended to be tools for governments to implement the social hot item of the day. They are living entities that must adapt to the environment in which they conduct business, and ultimately to grow and succeed so that they provide long term salaries / wages / benefits /and investment returns to the people that are part of these organizations. By creating and implementing well planned business decisions, businesses generate profits; contribute to the creation of their communities, and of course the associated tax revenues as part of the cost of doing business in our country.
If you were a private business owner or CEO of a publicly traded U.S. based company and have the responsibility to partners or share holders to ensue the future viability and profitability of your company - and you have the opportunity to access the best talent pools in the world, for less cost than a U.S. citizen with lesser education or skill sets- then the choice is easy and comes down to common sense.
If U.S. citizens are wondering where their jobs went or why, then maybe we do need to have our butts handed to us. Historically that is what needs to happen for people to implement real meaningful change.
As the previous respondent identified, GO CAPITALISM!

Wed, Feb 4, 2009

Why we need H1B workers when trained Americans are available? Govt. should encourage more IT training and build good citizens for filling high paying IT jobs.Look around and we see Americans driving Honda civic and H1B worker driving BMWs. Companies like Microsoft and GE have made Americans look underdogs over last 20 years and CEOs and CFOs made millions at our cost. Give chance to Americans and also cap the unrealistic salary, then you will seee a balanced society here.

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