"Our current green card system is not up to the task, with highly valued professionals spending a decade or more mired in backlogs," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a blog post. "Government officials are warning that these backlogs will become even more severe next month, especially for individuals born in India and China."
Smith called on the Senate to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 3012)), which sailed through the House of Representatives in November with a 389-15 vote. The act would make the 140,000 employment-based green cards that the U.S. issues each year available on a first come, first served basis. Currently, individuals from any one country can account for no more than 7% of the total work-related green cards issued.
"The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation," said Smith.
Critics of the current system maintain that it punishes individuals from big countries such as India and China, which produce large numbers of technology professionals. Those from smaller countries such as, say, Iceland, have a much easier time getting employment-based green cards because their countries rarely exceed the 7% cap.
[ India also is unhappy with the U.S. visa process. Read India Lodges Complaint Over H-1B Visa Rejections. ]
The Act would not increase the total number of green cards available, a fact that helped it win broad, bipartisan support in the House. Even lawmakers, such as Long Island Democrat Tim Bishop, who in the past have sought tougher restrictions on companies' ability to outsource work or import foreign IT pros, voted in favor of the Act.
Numerous tech companies in addition to Microsoft also support the bill. They include Oracle, Google, Cisco, and Intel. Industry support also came from, among others, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the Software and Information Industry Association.
More controversially, Microsoft would like to see more H-1B visas made available to foreign tech workers. The government currently caps the annual number at 65,000, not including 20,000 set aside for foreign graduates of U.S. universities. "Even with our economy in the midst of a prolonged recovery, the annual allotment of H-1B visas is projected to be exhausted earlier than last year," said Smith.
The H-1B visa program is controversial as, unlike with employment-related green cards, it does not require employers to show that there are no Americans available for a particular job. It's also difficult for H-1B workers to switch companies once they are in the U.S., a fact that, critics say, turns them into indentured laborers that are more attractive to employers than Americans, who are free to jump to another company whenever they choose.
But Smith said Microsoft and other tech companies need to import labor due to the tight supply of U.S. born technology workers. He said the unemployment rate in the tech sector is less than 4%. "Our economy is hungry for workers with strong educational backgrounds, especially those with degrees in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) fields."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this week began accepting H-1B applications for the government's next fiscal year, which starts on October 1.
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