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Microsoft IT Hiring Problems Bogus, Say Programmers

Tech worker groups say Redmond is exaggerating its difficulties finding IT talent as an excuse to import cheap H-1B help.
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What IT labor shortage? That's what reps for unemployed programmers and other IT workers are asking in response to Microsoft's claim that it needs to import more foreign help because the United States isn't producing enough individuals with the high-tech skills it needs.

Workers' advocates say that if big tech companies are having a tough time finding qualified employees it's only because they are limiting their searches to younger, less expensive workers.

"Experienced IT workers who are over 40 years old have a hard time even getting noticed by companies like Microsoft," said Rennie Sawade, communications director for WashTech, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. "They're really after the younger, more inexpensive workers."

Sawade also rejects claims by Microsoft and other high-tech employers that more experienced IT workers are not getting hired because they lack skills in hot new areas like cloud and mobility. "I doubt the ones they are bringing over on H-1B visas necessarily have those skills. They give them a three-week crash course and then call them a Java programmer."

Sawade's comments come on the heels of controversial testimony that Microsoft senior counsel Brad Smith gave last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration, refugees, and border security. Smith said the software maker has thousands of open positions going unfilled. "Filling our talent need remains a serious challenge," said Smith.

As of May, Microsoft had 4,551 job openings--including 2,629 computer science positions--but it's taking the company up to 65 days on average to find qualified workers for open spots, Smith said.

Smith argued that, until more Americans are available to fill high-tech jobs, U.S. immigration policies need to be relaxed to make it easier for companies like Microsoft to import workers from tech hot spots like India and China to fill the gap. "Our continued ability to help fuel the American economy depends heavily on continued access to the best possible talent. This cannot be achieved, and certainly not in the near term, exclusively through educational improvements to 'skill up' the American workforce."

Microsoft wants the federal government to raise the cap on employment-related green cards, which presently sits at 140,000 per year. It's also pushing for the elimination of caps that limit the number of individuals that can emigrate from certain countries. The software maker is most concerned that the caps disproportionately affect India and China, both of which have trained millions of new tech workers in just the past few years.

Microsoft also wants guest worker programs, such as the H-1B visa, to remain intact.

But critics say such programs are rife with fraud and abuse. "Loopholes in these programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in America," said Rochester Institute of Technology professor Ron Hira, who also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hira said tech vendors and outsourcing companies are using the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to hire workers that can be paid as little as $12 per hour for work that supposedly requires specialized skills. "Hardly a wage level that 'the best and the brightest' would earn," said Hira. When workers on temporary visas return to their native countries, the job often goes with them in the form of offshoring, said Hira.

Some third-party observers believe the United States is facing a legitimate shortage of tech workers. Matt Ferguson, CEO of job site CareerBuilder.com, said his site had 30,000 open tech jobs listed in July. Many of them required candidates with five or more years of IT experience. "We don't have people in the economy that have five years experience in engineering and IT to fill those positions," said Ferguson, speaking Thursday on CNBC.

Ferguson said workers with skills in specialized areas, such as the Ruby on Rails Web application framework, are in high demand. "Talking to companies anecdotally, you hear that they are having a very hard time finding these actual skills," said Ferguson, who noted that salaries for individuals with such skills are seeing double-digit percentage increases.

Sawade said his group wants Congress to reduce the number of available green cards and temporary visas for foreign tech workers, and develop tighter enforcement mechanics to prevent abuse of current programs.

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