WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley today said that in a time of economic downturn, American workers must be a top priority for American companies. Grassley reiterated those words after he sent a letter to Microsoft urging the company to make efforts to retain qualified American workers during the recently announced lay-offs.
Microsoft employs thousands of people through the H-1B visa program. This temporary work visa program allows American companies and universities to employ temporary foreign guest workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree in a job category that is considered by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to be a "specialty occupation." The purpose of the h-1b program is to help companies hire foreign guest workers on a temporary basis when there is not a sufficient qualified American workforce to meet those needs. However, the program is not intended to replace qualified American workers.
In October 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released an internal report that found the H-1B program has more than a 20 percent violation rate. The fraud identified in the report included jobs not located where employers claimed, H-1B visa holders not being paid the prevailing wage, forged documents, fraudulent degrees, and shell businesses. In one instance the H-1B position described by the employer was “business development analyst.” However, it turned out that the H-1B visa holder would be working at a laundromat doing laundry and maintaining washing machines.
Grassley has been a leader in the effort to improve the H-1B visa program. In the 110th Congress, he introduced a comprehensive H-1B and L visa reform bill with Senator Dick Durbin that would give priority to American workers and crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skill jobs. He has also asked questions of both American and foreign based companies about their use of the H-1B visa program.
Here is a copy of the text of Grassley’s letter
January 22, 2009
Mr. Steve Ballmer
One Microsoft Way
Redmond , WA 98052-6399
Dear Mr. Ballmer:
I am writing to inquire about press reports that Microsoft will be cutting approximately 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months. I understand that the layoffs will affect workers in research and development, marketing, sales, finance, legal and corporate affairs, human resources, and information technology.
I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan. As you know, I want to make sure employers recruit qualified American workers first before hiring foreign guest workers. For example, I cosponsored legislation to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to give priority to American workers and to crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs. Fraud and abuse is rampant in these programs, and we need more transparency to protect the integrity of our immigration system. I also support legislation that would strengthen educational opportunities for American students and workers so that Americans can compete successfully in this global economy.
Last year, Microsoft was here on Capitol Hill advocating for more H-1B visas. The purpose of the H-1B visa program is to assist companies in their employment needs where there is not a sufficient American workforce to meet their technology expertise requirements. However, H-1B and other work visa programs were never intended to replace qualified American workers. Certainly, these work visa programs were never intended to allow a company to retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American workers, when that company cuts jobs during an economic downturn.
It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs. To that effect, I would like you to respond to the following questions:
* What is the breakdown in the jobs that are being eliminated? What kind of jobs are they? How many employees in each area will be cut?
* Are any of these jobs being cut held by H-1B or other work visa program employees? If so, how many?
* How many of the jobs being eliminated are filled by Americans? Of those positions, is Microsoft retaining similar ones filled by foreign guest workers? If so, how many?
* How many H-1B or other work visa program workers will Microsoft be retaining when the planned layoff is completed?
My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa program employees over qualified American workers. Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce. I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention. Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator
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