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4/1/2009
10:16 AM
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Microsoft: We Need More Foreign Workers

Redmond says its reliance on H1-B employees is due to a shortage of capable U.S. tech pros.

Software maker Microsoft, which announced plans to lay off 5,000 U.S. employees earlier this year, said it needs to import more H-1B visa workers into the country to cope with what it says is a shortage of American tech workers.

"The future success of Microsoft and every other U.S. technology company depends on our ability to recruit the world's best talent," wrote Brad Smith, general counsel at Microsoft, in a blog post.

"While the vast majority of Microsoft's U.S. workforce is American, Microsoft hires foreign workers to bring specially needed skill sets to our U.S. operations and to fill roles when qualified American workers are not available," wrote Smith, in his Monday post.

Citing "the further deterioration of economic conditions," Microsoft in January said it would ax 5,000 workers, including an unspecified number of highly skilled research and development employees, this year. "We are not immune to the effects of the economy," CEO Steve Ballmer said at the time.

Sales of Microsoft's key Windows operating system slumped 8% in the most recent quarter.

Smith's pitch for more H-1B visa workers is aimed in part at Capitol Hill lawmakers, who are facing pressure from labors groups to cut the number foreign workers allowed into the country during a recession that has seen a number of tech companies cut staff in recent months.

IBM, according to union sources and company documents, has pink-slipped about 9,000 U.S. workers so far this year. Hewlett-Packard in September disclosed plans to cut about 13,000 U.S.-based jobs.

Agilent Technologies earlier this month announced 2,700 redundancies.

The H-1B issue tends to peak each spring as April 1 marks the deadline for employees to file applications on behalf of foreign workers they wish to import or retain. H-1B visas are good for three years and can be renewed once for an additional three years.

Microsoft is the largest U.S. employer of H-1B workers. The company filed 959 visa applications for such workers last year, according to government records.

The company blames its need to recruit immigrants on what it says is a shortage of Americans pursuing education in math and science. "Microsoft has invested millions of dollars in a wide range of K-12 and higher-education programs. But it will take time to reverse the past decade's decline in computer science graduation rates among U.S. citizens," wrote Smith.

Smith said a "startling" 61% of all Ph.D. candidates at American universities are temporary residents.

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