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Microsoft, frustrated as ever with H-1B policy, considers options

Patrick Thibodeau | Sept. 25, 2014
A two-day conference on high-skilled immigration policy, which attracted researchers from the U.S. and Europe, offered Microsoft an opportunity to voice frustration over U.S. immigration policy.

A two-day conference on high-skilled immigration policy, which attracted researchers from the U.S. and Europe, offered Microsoft an opportunity to voice frustration over U.S. immigration policy.

William Kamela, a senior federal policy lead at Microsoft, who detailed the stakes and options faced by his company, said the firm will apply for "roughly" 1,000 H-1B visas in next April's application period. "And we will get maybe 50% of those," assuming there is another visa lottery, he said. Lotteries are held once the overall 85,000 cap is exceeded.

The company's argument for access to more high-skilled foreign workers seems unaffected by its recent layoffs, even if the number of H-1B workers it seeks next year is potentially smaller than in some previous years. In 2013, Microsoft, for instance, received approvalfor 1,048 H-1B visas.

Microsoft is cutting about 14%of its workforce. The focus, instead, was on a need to find people with desired skills.

"At the end of the day you do run into the very real reality that there are small numbers of folks in very select areas that a lot of companies want that we just can't find," said Kamela.

The National Academies held the conference, and Microsoft, along with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, were the sponsors. Microsoft was the only tech firm appear on a panel.

Kamela, sat next to Felicia Escobar, special assistant to President Barack Obama on immigration, on the panel, making made it clear that Microsoft could shift some work to Canada or overseas — an options for other multinationals as well who are in search of talent, he said.

"If I need to move 400 people to Canada or Northern Ireland, or Hyderabad or Shanghai, we can do that," said Kamela, and who later explained that the company about 60% of Microsoft's workforce is in the U.S., yet it makes 68% of its profits overseas.

Focusing on computer science related degrees, Kamela said that a recent graduate "probably has four job offers today," and can go shopping for the best salary offer.

Kamela said that competition for these students is only growing because computer science skills are now sought by all the major industries, including health care, financial services, and manufacturing. "Every one of these industries needs robust IT departments," he said.

Escobar was circumspect about what the president might do on immigration, but said major changes to immigration policies will be difficult. The president has said he plans to seek some immigration reforms through executive order in the absence of action by Congress on immigration.

"There are limitations big limitations as we think about trying to fix the system within the confines of the law," said Escobar.

 

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