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Microsoft, Rubio, Sessions and the H-1B ground war

Patrick Thibodeau | July 14, 2015
Microsoft's argument that the U.S. faces a shortage of people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills isn't helped by the 7,800 layoffs it announced last week.

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Microsoft's argument that the U.S. faces a shortage of people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills isn't helped by the 7,800 layoffs it announced last week.

In fact, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate's Immigration Subcommittee, Microsoft's latest cuts show "there is a surplus -- not a shortage of skilled, talented and qualified Americans seeking STEM employment."

Sessions' criticism of Microsoft -- the company declined to comment on his remarks -- was aimed at Senate supporters of the I-Squared H-1B bill as much as the company itself. I-Squared would increase the H-1B visa cap considerably.

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), now seeking the Republican nomination for president, is a primary sponsor of I-Squared. He is also from a state that includes Disney Parks and Resorts IT operations. Disney recently replaced IT workers by using IT services firms that are large users of the H-1B visa.

The reports of Disney's actions prompted Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, to ask for a federal investigation and for changes in the H-1B law. In doing so, Nelson became the 11th Senator in recent months to ask for a probe of the temporary visa program.

But Rubio did not join Nelson in that request. Brooke Sammon, a spokesperson for Rubio told Computerworld by email that Rubio's silence was not from a lack of concern. "Of course we are concerned about these reports, and if the program was misused then people should be held accountable," she said.

"We unfortunately don't have a lot of confidence in the Obama Administration's ability to carry out this investigation, protect American workers, or enforce our immigration laws," said Sammon, who called for "a complete, step-by-step overhaul of our immigration system so that our laws are enforced."

Rubio shows no similar lack of confidence in the I-Squared bill, and he signaled his support for more temporary visas to the tech industry last week.

Rubio outlined his innovation platform in a speech in Chicago, where he argued that there is a skills gap. He didn't mention the H-1B visa specifically, but he didn't have to. The "skills gap" claim is a bedrock assertion by Microsoft and others seeking a large H-1B visa hike. Using the phrase is seen as code.

I-Squared would increase the base visa cap from 65,000 to 195,000 and eliminate the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM field.

I-Squared has alarmed critics of the temporary visa program. The professional engineering group, IEEE-USA, claims the bill would "help destroy" the U.S. tech workforce by flooding the market with lower-cost foreign workers who can undercut and replace their U.S. counterparts.

 

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