Programmers Guild H-1b Visa Reforms

January 29, 2013

Programmers Guild H-1b Visa Reforms


Increase innovation through H-1b Reform, not H-1b Expansion

The U.S. Senate, led by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Utah, is currently drafting legislation that would vastly increase the number of H-1b workers without adding any displacement protections for U.S. workers. These U.S. Senators are siding 100% with multi-national corporations and 100% against American tech workers. Details of this pending legislation are summarized in the 1/29/2013 NY Times article pasted below.

Only a small percentage of H-1b workers are “innovators.” It may take skill to fill a tooth or maintain an obsolete business billing software – but this is not innovation. More often H-1b are averaged skilled immigrants willing to work for below average wages – with the benefit to the employer that they are indentured – they do not have the same freedom to seek a better job while their green card is being processed. The best solution to the misuse of H-1b is to set $100,000 minimum wage.

Roughly 400,000 of the 1.6 million BS degrees each year are STEM – up from 320,000 just a decade ago. These are predominately Americans and are more than the U.S. job market can absorb: During the past decade STEM employment increased by only 60,000 per year – less than the number of foreign workers entering each year. Only top graduates from top schools are considered by major employers such as Microsoft, Intel and Google – and these employers receive far more applications than their HR departments can manage. We don’t need additional foreign STEM workers – there is no “shortage.”

Congress should also consider the interests of American workers. The Programmers Guild calls for some basic U.S. worker protections within these expansions of the H-1b program:

1) All H-1b workers must be paid a salary of at least $100,000. This deters employers from misusing H-1b as a source of cheap, low-skilled, labor at the exclusion of new U.S. graduates. This salary floor is consistent with what Microsoft pays new hires. (“A typical new hire for a Microsoft programmer or software-engineer position might command a salary of $100,000 to $120,000…” in the article below.) Currently DOL is approving H-1b as low as $5 per hour for kitchen help in Saipan, and many low-skilled jobs in the $12 to $16 per hour wage range.

2) All H-1b positions must first be advertised and in good faith made available to qualified Americans. For too long Congress has allowed employers to hire H-1b regardless of whether qualified Americans could fill the positions. Currently the PERM (green card) recruitment occurs after the position has been filled by an H-1b worker. Obviously recruitment should occur before a foreign worker is hired.

3) Add a $3000 per year fee to every H-1b visa. Microsoft advocates a $10,000 fee, but we feel that is unfair to employers who only need an H-1b worker for short term. This is a relatively small fee in relation to the full cost of employing at top-skilled tech worker. (Microsoft claims to pay $20,000 signing bonus and $50,000 in stock options – see article below.)

4) Green card process should be independent from employer at a specific job on H-1b.The largest users of H-1b are foreign corporations managed by citizens of other countries, creating the absurd situation that the U.S. is allowing citizens of other countries determine who will become U.S. citizens. The key basis employers use in deciding who to sponsor for GC is who they want to keep indentured for a long period. This is not related to the GC candidate being exceptional in any way.

Guild members will be asking their Senators to amend H-1b to include these provisions, and demanding an explanation if these basic protections are not added.

Bill Sponsors – contact to ask that they include the above provisions:

  • Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Utah  – 202-224-5251
  • Senator Marco Rubio of Florida – 202-224-3041
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – 202-224-3244
  • Senator Chris Coons of Delaware – 202-224-5042

IEEE-USA also opposes this expansion of the H-1b program. U.S. Workers have been excluded from these back-door negotiations with industry lobbyists.

Regarding the 6000 openings a Microsoft, they have thousands of unfilled positions even when H-1b cap is not reached. Microsoft does not recruit at any of the 23 California State University campuses – for example. Microsoft needs to do a better job matching the tens of thousands of applications they receive with their openings.

Among the corporations advocating more H-1b is Hewlett-Packard. But they have laid off 3000 workers just at their facility in Roseville CA (near Sacramento) and have had only a few opening over the past several years. Check Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for evidence there is no shortage of tech workers.

Mr. Kim Berry


Microsoft offers U.S. big bucks for H-1B visas

With Congress reluctant to admit more skilled workers from overseas, Microsoft is offering to pay millions of dollars for the right to hire more foreigners, with the money going for educational training to eventually fill those jobs with Americans.

By Kyung M. Song

Seattle Times Washington bureau

September 27, 2012


WASHINGTON — Faced with 6,000 job openings and Congress at loggerheads over whether to admit more skilled workers from overseas, Microsoft on Thursday offered a twofer solution — charging employers millions of dollars for the right to hire more foreigners and using the money for training to eventually fill those jobs with Americans.

The proposal, which Microsoft unveiled in Washington, D.C., is the company’s most public foray into the ongoing ideological battle over immigration reform and quotas on temporary H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign labor.

In doing so, Microsoft attempted to sidestep such controversies as citizenship for undocumented immigrants that led Senate Republicans to block a comprehensive overhaul bill in 2010.

Instead, the Redmond software giant framed the issue in stark economic terms: In a nation beset by high unemployment rates, jobs with six-figure salaries are going begging for qualified hires, particularly minorities.

For instance, the U.S. is expected to add an average of 120,000 computer-related jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree for each of the next 10 years. But colleges and universities are minting half as many graduates as needed.

“It’s a problem that’s approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel. Smith held a briefing for reporters at Microsoft’s D.C. office on K Street before his speech at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank.

The proposal would likely face an uphill climb in Congress, at least for now. Just last week, House Democrats helped defeat a Republican bill that would have granted permanent residency to 55,000 high-tech workers each year by diverting green cards that now go to less-educated foreigners via lottery.

Microsoft is calling on Congress to grant 20,000 new H-1B visas each year solely for jobs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The current annual cap is 65,000 visas, about half of which are claimed for computer-related occupations.

Microsoft requested an average of 4,100 H-1B visas annually between 2010 and 2011, more than any other corporation.

Additionally, Microsoft wants the federal government to release 20,000 green cards each year from an accumulated pool of a half-million unused ones so high-tech workers could remain in the United States as permanent residents. Without a green card, an H-1B visa holder’s stay is limited to a total of six years.

Although Microsoft offered the plan only in its name, Smith said other employers and trade groups share its concerns about the skills gap. Failure to meet the labor challenge, Smith said, would only push high-tech American jobs abroad.

Smith said companies could pay $10,000 for each of the additional 20,000 H-1B visa reserved for STEM occupations. Large employers now pay $1,500 apiece, along with several thousand dollars more in various fees. For green cards, the fee would be $15,000.

Altogether, Smith said, the fees would bring in $500 million a year.

Microsoft also detailed how that money might be spent. It called for hiring and training more STEM teachers for kindergarten through 12th grade and making advanced-placement computer-science courses available in 95 percent of U.S. high schools that lack them, among other things. It also said colleges should expand their enrollment capacity for STEM applicants, particularly in computer sciences.

Smith called the new $10,000 fee for an H-1B visa a small one-time investment.

A typical new hire for a Microsoft programmer or software-engineer position might command a salary of $100,000 to $120,000, plus a $20,000 signing bonus. Add $50,000 in stock options, plus the cost of an office and other expenses, Smith said, and the total cost might add up to $200,000.

Smith argued that small companies and startups should be able to bear the higher fees just as easily, since salaries don’t vary significantly across companies.

But Jacob Kirkegaard, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., said raising the fee to $10,000 could give Microsoft a recruiting edge against India-based outsourcing companies whose payrolls are heavy with workers brought over on H-1B visas. One such company, Tata Consultancy Services, is the second-highest user of H-1B visas behind Microsoft, according to a Brookings report.

Kirkegaard said he agrees with Microsoft’s dual approach, that the United States needs both more high-tech workers and more and better STEM education. Nonetheless, he said it was unlikely that Microsoft’s piecemeal solution would get anywhere in Congress.

An immigration overhaul has been repeatedly thwarted by various factions in recent years. Among them are Hispanics and some Democrats who want to link H-1B visas to creating a pathway for citizenship for people brought here illegally as children, Republicans who oppose expanded immigration, and labor unions that fear foreigners will displace American workers.

“The best Microsoft can hope for is that this proposal becomes part of such a new comprehensive immigration reform to be initiated after the election,” Kirkegaard said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration advocacy group, agreed Microsoft’s proposal addresses only one part of the nation’s need for temporary workers of all skill levels.

“Addressing the labor needs for technology firms in Silicon Valley will not help the Georgia farmer whose onions are rotting on the vine,” Noorani said.

Skilled Science Workers at Focus of Second Senate Proposal on Immigration


As one bipartisan group of senators released its blueprint on Monday for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration laws, another group in the Senate was ready to present a proposal addressing one dysfunctional aspect of the system: a shortage of visas for highly skilled immigrants working in science and technology fields.

Four senators, led by Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican from Utah, will introduce a bill on Tuesday that would greatly increase the number of temporary visas available for those immigrants, and would also free up permanent resident visas, known as green cards, so more of those immigrants could settle in the United States and eventually become citizens.

The bill will be the first legislation introduced in Congress on immigration in a year when the once-toxic issue has gathered surprising political momentum. Lawmakers who have shied away from it in recent years are now offering proposals that they are framing as practical solutions to fix a failing system.

Major technology employers like Microsoft, Oracle and others have been calling for years for more visas for foreigners with computer, engineering and mathematics skills, saying they have more jobs than they can fill with Americans who are graduating in those fields from American universities. White House officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that a broad overhaul, including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, would have a better chance at attracting votes for passage, especially among Republicans, if it had vigorous support from business.

A group of eight senators, led by Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat, and John McCain of Arizona, a Republican, on Monday unveiled principles for an overhaul that focused on solving illegal immigration, with increased border security and measures to give legal status to illegal immigrants. Their blueprint referred to changes for highly skilled immigrants, without specifics.

The bill by Mr. Hatch’s smaller group, by contrast, is a detailed plan to recalibrate the high-skilled visa system. It would immediately increase the cap on temporary visas for those immigrants, known as an H-1B, to 115,000 a year from the current maximum of 65,000. It would also create, for the first time, a “market-based” system that would rapidly increase the numbers of those visas if the supply ran out, to a maximum of 300,000 H-1B visas in one year.

In the boom before the recession took hold in 2008, there were several years when businesses snatched up all the available H-1B visas in a few days. The market mechanism in Mr. Hatch’s bill would lower the cap on temporary visas if demand from employers declined.

Also sponsoring the bill are Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican who was among the eight senators endorsing the broader blueprint, and Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Chris Coons of Delaware, both Democrats.

In a statement on Monday, Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of Microsoft, said the company “strongly supports efforts to permanently reform our high-skilled immigration system and enact broad immigration reform in 2013.” He enumerated measures the company would like to see in any legislation, including all those in Mr. Hatch’s bill.

Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said his organization had worked closely with the senators on the bill and would send “a letter of strong support.”

Ms. Klobuchar said immigrants had brought new ideas and businesses to the United States. “I truly believe we have to be a country that makes stuff again, that exports to the world,” she said in an interview. “To do that, we have to have innovation.”

“Sadly,” Ms. Klobuchar said, under the current system “we have been training our competition,” because many skilled immigrants were forced to return home after studying and working in the United States.

Mr. Hatch, who fought off a re-election challenge from the right last year, has not said whether he would support comprehensive legislation including legal status for illegal immigrants. Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Coons said they expected their bill would become part of the broader overhaul.

The bill would allow spouses of temporary immigrants to work, a change that would bring relief to many foreigners — many of them educated women from Asian countries like India — whose careers languished when their spouses came to work in this country. The bill would make it easier for temporary immigrants who are tied to one employer to find a new job if their first job did not work out.

It would also tinker with the system to make more permanent resident green cards available for immigrants in science and technology fields, but without increasing the number of green cards over all, something many Republican lawmakers are loath to do. It would allow the immigration authorities to distribute as many as 300,000 green cards that went unused over the years because of twists in the system.

The bill would make changes to ensure that a much higher percentage of 140,000 employment green cards available each year would go to the skilled immigrants, and not to their family members, as happens now.

Responding to insistent demands from universities, the bill would make an unlimited number of green cards available for foreigners graduating from American universities with advanced science and technology degrees. It would increase visa fees and use the money for training programs for Americans.

Some employee groups said they would oppose the bill, saying the large number of temporary immigrants would undercut wages for Americans. “America is a nation of immigrants, not of guest workers,” said Keith Grzelak, vice president of the IEEE-USA, which represents more than 400,000 engineers.