Microsoft proposes 'pay-to-play' immigration plan to grow workforce

Sep 27, 2012

With 6,000 high-tech jobs on the table, Microsoft said today it has a pay-to-play plan that would increase the number of H-1B visas to the U.S. by 20,000 and raise more than $500 million for education.

“The United States faces a growing economic challenge – a substantial and increasing shortage of individuals with the skills needed to fill the new jobs the private sector is creating. Throughout the nation and in a wide range of industries, there is an urgent demand for workers trained in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — yet there are not enough people with the necessary skills to meet that demand,” said Brad Smith, an executive vice president in legal affairs at Microsoft, said in a company blog post.

The risk of waiting for the education of American workers to catch up and fill these jobs, he said, is that unfilled high-tech jobs could migrate overseas.

The Seattle Times reports that 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."

The deal

Of the 6,000 jobs the company has open, more than 3,400 of those are for researchers, developers and engineers.

“Too few American students – especially students who have historically been underserved and underrepresented – are achieving the levels of education required to secure jobs in innovation-based industries,” he wrote.

Consequently, the company proposed in a “whitepaper” and in a speech at the Brookings Institution today a plan to increase the number of visas for high-tech workers that it and other companies would pay the government to use.

Immigration reform should follow two paths, he wrote

  • Congress should create a new, supplemental category with 20,000 visas annually for STEM skills that are in short supply.
  • Congress should take advantage of prior unused green cards by making a supplemental allocation of 20,000 new green card slots for workers with STEM skills.

At $10,000 per new visa paid by companies, the proposal “would help pay for the STEM education investments across the country which would be part of a Race to the Future initiative. We believe this approach could raise up to $500 million per year – or $5 billion over a decade – that the federal government could use to distribute to states where the STEM education investments are needed,” Smith wrote.

Point of contention

Microsoft’s calls for immigration reform in order to fill high-tech jobs has caused plenty of controversy over the years.

Response to KPLU’s story earlier this month about the company’s immigration plea brought up a range of complaints and anger over the company’s use of workers, pay and other practices.

"We really have a significant responsibility to invest in building the pipeline of STEM talent in the U.S. And we have stepped up," Microsoft attorney Karen Jonestold KPLU in response to those complaints. "But there will always be a need, and there’s an especially critical need right now to supplement the talent we find here in the U.S. with the best workers from around the world."