Microsoft seeks fewer H-1B visas in recession-hit US

By Arun Kumar, Gaea News Network
Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - With the hiring of foreign talent facing heightened scrutiny and the threat of greater restrictions in the US, Microsoft Corp has filed substantially fewer applications for H-1B visas coveted by Indian techies for next year.

‘I think we will see substantially fewer H-1B applications filed this year. That is the case here at Microsoft,’ the software giant’s General Counsel Brad Smith said as the US government Wednesday started taking applications for the H-1B visas.

As the weak economy depletes its need for workers, the industry will likely follow Microsoft’s lead, he told reporters on a conference call. In contrast to last year, most applications will be for current workers.

‘Fewer than half of our applications will be for new hires,’ Smith said. ‘It won’t surprise me if we see that as a broader trend in the industry as a whole.’

Smith would not comment directly on legislation likely to be reintroduced soon aimed at ensuring US workers are given first priority over foreign workers in hiring decisions.

The legislation, backed by Senators Charles Grassley, a Republican, and Richard Durbin, a Democrat, will likely require companies to pledge to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans for a job before seeking a visa for it.

In recent years, the annual competition for 85,000 temporary work visas awarded to foreign computer technicians, engineers, university educators and other highly skilled professionals has drawn twice as many applications as spots available.

But this year immigration attorneys are predicting that the recession will result in fewer applications, while critics of the visa programme are vowing a renewed push to regulate it more closely.

Despite the press attention paid to India-based companies utilising H-1B visas, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show the use of H-1Bs by Indian companies declined by 27 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to a new study.

Contrary to assertions that Indian employers use up ‘most’ or ‘80 percent’ of the annual quota, USCIS data reveal that such companies utilised only 11.9 percent of the 2008 new H-1B petitions issued, according to the study by National Foundation For American Policy.

The 12,180 new H-1B visa holders hired by Indian companies in 2008 represented 0.0083 percent of the US labor force, less than 1/100th of 1 percent, a small proportion by any reasonable definition.

While well-known US technology companies are most often in the news related to H-1B visas, a large variety of businesses and organizations in America, including public school systems, hire H-1B professionals every year.

In FY 2008, 24,692 different employers hired at least one individual on a new H-1B petition.

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