Microsoft hinted the week of May 15 that it will be forced to move more jobs abroad if the U.S. government doesnt raise the cap on H-1B visas.
The Senate resumed session May 15 to debate the Immigration Reform Bill, which makes a provision to nearly double the number of allotted H-1B visas available annually to 115,000 from 65,000, reigniting the ongoing debate between labor advocates who consider the program detrimental to the American workforce, and employers that consider the limits unnecessarily protectionist.
"The cap on H1-B visas has limited the high-tech industrys ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest workers. Said Jack Krumholtz, managing director of federal government affairs for Microsoft.
"… The reality is that the majority of advanced degrees awarded by U.S. universities in areas of engineering, mathematics and computer sciences are to foreign nationals. Current visa limits preclude Microsoft and others in the industry to hire many of these graduates. This harms our ability to innovate and has negative consequences for U.S. global competitiveness."
Krumholtz told Bloomberg news that if this situation persists, Microsoft is going to have to do more of its development work abroad.
Stating that "high-skills immigration issue is by far the number one thing," for Microsoft, chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates was in Washington, D.C., in March lobbying the Senate to have the number of H-1B visas increased.
Gates has long argued that U.S. curbs on immigrations and guest workers pose a greater threat to its competitiveness in the wake of the increased caliber of research institutions in China and India, advocating for the removal of all caps on H-1B visas.
In 2000, Microsoft was ranked sixth among companies hiring the largest amount of employees under H-1B visas.
The controversial H-1B visa program launched in 1990, allowing skilled foreigners to work in the United States for up to six years.
In response to the soaring tech market of the late 1990s, the number of available H-1B visas was temporarily increased 195,000 by Congress for the 2001-2003 fiscal years, reverting to 65,000 in 2004.
While many tech employers feel that the demand for the visas far exceeds the supply, labor groups criticize the program as a floodgate for diluting the U.S. labor market with skilled, low-wage employees.
"Were in favor of immigration but within a program that will bring in people who expect and want to become citizens and not guest workers. We dont see any reason why we cant increase green cards. This is the way you build a talented work force; you dont do it with guest workers," said Ralph Wyndrum Jr., president of IEEE-USA, an organizational unit within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that supports that career interests of its members, told eWEEK.
The proposed bill will also increase the fee paid by companies to the Department of Labor for each foreigner they employ with an H-1B visa, from $500 to up to $3,500 per application.
About half of this money goes to fund the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grant Program, created in 1998, to train U.S. citizens for jobs that might have gone to H-1B holders.
The House of Representatives, which has enacted a tougher border-security bill, is expected to oppose raising the H-1B visa cap, should it pass through the Senate.