Microsoft Dodges Senator's Layoff Questions

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Microsoft responded Tuesday to queries from a U.S. lawmaker urging the company to retain American workers rather than foreign workers when conducting its layoffs, but the software giant dodged most of Senator Charles Grassley's questions.

Following Microsoft's announcement on Jan. 22 that it would lay off 5,000 people, Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent a letter to CEO Steve Ballmer, expressing his concern that Microsoft would retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees.

"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," he wrote.

Grassley asked Microsoft to respond to a number of questions, including how many of the cut jobs are held by H-1B visa holders, how many H-1B visa workers would keep their jobs after the layoff and how many Americans losing their jobs held positions where H-1B workers in similar positions would keep their jobs. The H-1B visa program allows skilled workers from other countries to temporarily work in the U.S.

Microsoft didn't specifically answer most of those questions. "Because the job reduction decisions will be made over 18 months, we do not yet know all of the specific jobs that will be eliminated," Brad Smith, general counsel at Microsoft, wrote in the letter.

He did not say how many H-1B visa holders Microsoft currently employs or will employ after the layoffs are complete. "We do not expect to see a significant change in the proportion of H-1B employees in our workforce following the job reductions," Smith said. "Workers on H-1B visas and other temporary work visas make up only a small percentage of our overall workforce, but they were also among the employees impacted by the reductions announced in January."

The number of H-1B visa workers at Microsoft is less than the 15 percent stipulated by immigration law, Smith said.

Microsoft has lobbied the government to increase the number of foreign workers who receive H-1B visas, arguing that they are critical to the company's continued innovation. Smith used the opportunity of responding to Grassley to further that argument.

He cited a study that found that in 2005, temporary residents earned more than 40 percent of the engineering and computer science degrees at U.S. universities. For doctoral degrees, 59 percent of those awarded degrees in those fields were temporary residents, he said.

It's those people that Microsoft wants to be able to hire, he said, while blaming government delays for failing to allow them to become more permanent residents. "Many of these H-1B employees have been seeking permanent resident status for many years and would no longer be dependent on their H-1B visas but for multi-year delays in the green card process," Smith said.

Microsoft announced in January that it planned to cut 5,000 jobs over an 18 month period. Initially, 1,400 people lost their jobs. The company also said that it expects to create 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs, for a net decline of 2,000 to 3,000 jobs overall. Microsoft employs over 90,000 people.

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