Microsoft’s cost-cutting move of slashing 5,000 jobs has attracted the attention of Republican senator Charles Grassley from Iowa. He wrote to CEO Steve Ballmer about the job losses, specifically concerned that, “Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan.”
Microsoft’s job-cuts were a reaction to lower than expected profits reported in its Q4 finances last week. Microsoft is the latest technology giant to demonstrate that it’s finding the going tough, but it’s certainly not the first to react by slashing jobs.
Microsoft has many foreign employees in the U.S. under the H1-B visa program, which is designed so that employers can recruit foreign nationals in “specialty” jobs. It allows foreign experts, who must have at least a bachelors degree, to work in areas of highly specialized knowledge — of which the sciences, IT and software are obvious examples — for up to six years. Furthermore, the regulations supporting the program state that “the statute does not require employers…to demonstrate that there are no available U.S. workers or to test the labor market for U.S. workers as required under the permanent labor certification program,” which effectively makes it easier for employers to use this program than other visa systems.
But Senator Grassley is asking Ballmer to supply data on what jobs will be cut, and how many of those will be people in the U.S. under the H1-B program. Microsoft has a “moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times,” he says.
It’s an amazingly xenophobic argument in our modern world. Although Senator Grassley he uses the “similarly qualified” line, he’s largely ignoring the fact that H1-B jobs are for highly-specialized workers — people who bring their own unique expertise in high-tech areas, and who may be hard to replace locally.
Grassley has a history of “thinking differently” about U.S. versus foreign employment situations. He’s also introduced legislation that significantly increases the tax burden of U.S. citizens working abroad, irrespective of the impact that this would have on the expatriates, and independent of the tax situation in the country they’re working in.
Microsoft’s response to Grassley’s maneuver was carefully crafted, and attacked the problem from a humanist angle: “We care about all our employees,” said a company statement. The company will also be “providing services and support to try to help every affected worker, whether they are U.S. workers or foreign nationals working in this country on a visa,” indicating that at least some of the 5,000 would be foreign employees.