Who says you can’t throw money at a problem?
Faced with the chronic issue of too few H-1B visas and the unwillingness of Congress or the Obama administration to do anything to solve the problem, technology giant Microsoft has come up with a quick and easy solution: prod the government to take action by offering $10,000 per worker if they will release additional H-1B visas.
According to the Seattle Times, “Faced with 6,000 job openings and Congress at loggerheads over whether to admit more skilled workers from overseas, Microsoft (last week) offered a two-fer solution — charging employers millions of dollars for the right to hire more foreigners and using the money for training to eventually fill those jobs with Americans.”
Current H-1B visa cap hits U.S. tech firms hard
Microsoft and many other other American tech companies have complained for years that the cap on H-1B tech visas needs to be raised to deal with the realities of the U.S. labor market — that is, that “the U.S. is expected to add an average of 120,000 computer-related jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree for each of the next 10 years. But (American) colleges and universities are minting half as many graduates as needed.”
U.S. businesses use the H-1B visa to employ foreign workers in “professional” or “specialty occupation” positions. The H-1B visa allows for six (6) years of employment in the United States, which is extendable if the company sponsors the individual for permanent residence.
Current law allows for 65,000 new H-1B visas to be issued each year, and an additional 20,000 visas are available to foreign workers with an advanced degree from a U.S. academic institution. But, the number of applicants for H-1B visas exceeds the number of visa available, and the shortfall hits American companies that need a large number of workers with skills in science and math — like Microsoft — particularly hard.
After years of lobbying and complaining about the problem, Microsoft has now opted to take another approach — offering what is in essence a cash “bounty” if the government will ease the H-1B visa limits.
$10,000 for each additional H-1B visa
Microsoft is calling on Congress to grant 20,000 new H-1B visas each year solely for jobs in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The current annual cap is 65,000 visas, about half of which are claimed for computer-related occupations.
Microsoft requested an average of 4,100 H-1B visas annually between 2010 and 2011, more than any other corporation.
Additionally, Microsoft wants the federal government to release 20,000 green cards each year from an accumulated pool of a half-million unused ones so high-tech workers could remain in the United States as permanent residents. Without a green card, an H-1B visa holder’s stay is limited to a total of six years.
“It’s a problem that’s approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel. …
Smith said companies could pay $10,000 for each of the additional 20,000 H-1B visa reserved for STEM occupations. Large employers now pay $1,500 apiece, along with several thousand dollars more in various fees. For green cards, the fee would be $15,000.
Altogether, Smith said, the fees would bring in $500 million a year … (and Microsoft ) that money might be spent … training more STEM teachers for kindergarten through 12th grade and making advanced-placement computer-science courses available in 95 percent of U.S. high schools that lack them, among other things. It also said colleges should expand their enrollment capacity for STEM applicants, particularly in computer sciences.”
No chance for action during election cycle
It’s unlikely that Microsoft’s proposal will get a serious hearing in Congress or by the administration until after the current election cycle runs it course, especially because it points to a larger problem that Washington also wants to ignore — comprehensive immigration reform.
But, it shows that Microsoft is willing to pay for the privilege of hiring more foreign workers with math and science skills, and that’s a proposal that is bound to raise a few eyebrows in a political environment where finding non-controversial ways ways to generate more government revenue is viertually impossible.
Yes, this proposal by Microsoft undoubtedly will generate some controversy of its own, but the fact that the technology giant is suggesting a way to make it pay for itself AND break the H-1B visa logjam in the process seems to be a win-win solution that perhaps some of the more reasonable minds in Washington just might be able to embrace.