Jobs Follow Talent: The Need for Education and High-Skilled Immigration Reform

Posted by Brad Smith
General Counsel & Senior Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

Today, I had the opportunity to discuss the need for education and high-skilled immigration reform when I testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security at a hearing on “The Economic Imperative for Immigration Reform.”

The essence of my testimony is that while we undoubtedly have a jobs problem in this country, closer analysis shows it is also a talent and skills problem. In a world where jobs follow talent, we need to increase the skills of the American workforce if we are to succeed economically.

Education is clearly a priority. Today, we face a dual unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics last month estimated that the unemployment rate for individuals with a college degree or more is only 4.4 percent. For those individuals with only a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 10 percent. And the problem may get worse. According to a recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study, between 1973 and 2008, the share of jobs in the U.S. economy that required postsecondary education rose from 28 percent to 59 percent. This share is projected to rise to 63 percent by 2018. The same study shows that by 2018 we are likely to fall short on the number of college graduates our economy needs. We have a skills gap.

At Microsoft we are trying to play our part in tackling this challenge. This spring, we joined with several others to launch Washington STEM, a privately funded program to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math. Last month, we also pledged $25 million over the next five years to the new public-private Washington Opportunity Scholarship that will increase the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees. Just last week, we announced a new $15 million investment in research and development for immersive learning technologies in schools across the country.

Improving education is a first-tier need, but obviously it will take time. Enhancing the skills of our country’s workforce also depends on targeted efforts to attract relatively small numbers of the best people from elsewhere in the world to bring their skills and talent to work here. A strategic immigration policy for high-skilled workers can help create more jobs here for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike. At Microsoft, we’ve seen first-hand how the combination of American talent and the best-educated from around the world can fuel innovation and job creation here in the United States. A recent University of Washington study shows that every skilled Microsoft job supports 5.8 other jobs in Washington State.

And it isn’t just about filling the near term skills gap. There should always be a place in the American economy for the best and brightest from around the world to bring their talent here, and help create other American jobs.

In our debate about how to get our nation’s economy back on track, we have to include discussion about modernizing our country’s broken immigration system, a system that hasn’t seen a major change in law since 1990. In my testimony, I outlined some specific steps our country needs to take. Given the new global mobility of jobs, the ability to add talent to our population is of the utmost importance. The U.S. needs leadership from Congress and the Administration to take the types of steps that will revitalize economic growth and job creation.

You can read my written testimony to the Senate, and that of the other witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee website. Testimony is accessible by clicking on the name of the witness. 

Comments (7)

  1. Eric says:

    BS; Who will invest in education when you in-source jobs for lower pay.

  2. Please explain... says:

    Why can’t Microsoft find high skill American talent?

    Simple. They don’t want to. And, legally, they don’t have to – thanks to loopholes in H-1b law passed by Congress, recommended by Bill Gates and Microsoft lobbyist, and convicted felon Jack Abramoff.

    The fraud ridden, H-1b law legalizes discrimination against American citizens.

    “H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker,” according to the Department of Labor’s Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2006-2011.

    Mr. Smith, can you please explain

    1. Why did Microsoft laid off 5,000 US citizens in 2009 and hire over 5,000 foreign visa worker replacements in the same time period (Seattle Times)

    2. In 2009, Microsoft stated that its Puget Sound workforce 33% foreign visa workers. Specifically why cannot Microsoft find skilled talent in their own backyard?

    3. Why won't Microsoft give the surplus of highly educated, high skill tech talent residing within 15 miles of Microsoft's Redmond campus, including many former Microsoft employees replaced by foreign visa workers a fair chance to compete for jobs at Microsoft?


    It appears that Mr. Smith and Ms. Terzano chose to discriminate against American citizens and overlook the facts below by stating:

    “However if you have been laid off at General Motors as an automotive design engineer, that wouldn’t necessarily qualify them for a job as a software engineer,” said Microsoft spokesperson Ms. Ginny Terzano. “It’s the same with some of the people laid off at our company.”…/LayoffsAtMicrosoftStirResentmentOverH1BHol.aspx

    Some facts overlooked by Microsoft

    * 29% US citizens residing within 15 miles of MSFT have Bachelor’s Degrees

    —> Note, only 26.5% of foreign born residing 15 miles of MSFT have Bachelor’s Degree (US Census)

    * Over 50% H-1b visa employees fill entry level jobs (GAO)

    * Over 21% H-1b applications examined by the GAO are fraudulent (GAO)

    *124,000 King County Residents laid off 2009

    * 9% King County Unemployment Rate, 2009

    * $ 67,796 Annual 2009 Median King County Wage, a drop from prior year

    * 130% Average H-1B Wage as % Median King County Income (Google Public Data)

    * 11.8% King County Children living in poverty in 2009 (48,000 children)

    * $22,500 2009 King County Poverty level in 2009 for a family of 4

    * 7,000 More children entered poverty in King County in 2009

    * 9.2% King County working age adults (18-64) living in poverty in 2009…/September%202010%20CC%20Data%20Update.pdf

    I am one of the laid off Microsoft workers replaced by multiple foreign visa workers on alphabet soup visas.

    There is a surplus of highly talented Americans literally walking distance from Microsoft campus who have been discarded.

    PLEASE understand that this discrimination is ruining our community. Highly skilled American talent the bedrock of the community until this time, have lost our jobs, homes, health insurance, life savings, and tragically so much more.

    PLEASE do not let another former Microsoft employee laid off due to visa fraud and abuse and their young families become homeless. We do NOT want a handout, ALL we want is a fair chance to compete for jobs in our own country.

    Thank you

  3. Samuel says:

    @please Explain – you have to understand Microsft at the end of the day is a business and is as much concerned about the balance sheet as anybody is. For Microsft and most high tech companies an employee is an asset with an ROI associated with him/her. At these companies you own your employment and it is your responsibility to make sure that you remain competitive and have a high ROI as an asset. If you got laid off it is becouse you were not worth the investment – as offensive as it may sound, especially at a time like this, that is the objective truth. Also my experience tells me that if you are really good at what you do are always in demand …irrespective of what the economy is doing.

    ANother thing you overlooked is that most of the big high tech companies like MSFT nowadays dont even sponsor a new H1B unless he/she has a master's or a PHD – I know this for a fact becouse I work in the HR department of one of these companies. This is becouse, unlike what you think, spnsoring an H1B is not easy and is expensive and companies dont do it unless it is  worth it – if the H1b employee does not have a Master's or PHD, the chance of his visa getting rejected is very high (>80%) – so it is simply not worth it. So I would say stop being bitter and emotional,  analyze things objectively, get a Master's and start being competitive. IN a capitalist economy there is nothing called 'guranteed job' – you gurantee your job- you cannot hide behind citizenship or government legislation and protect it.

    My 2 cents

    PS: I dont work for microsoft or any other company that I might have mentioned here. Even if i did, these are just my opinions and does not reflect that of my employer.

  4. Osman says:

    What skills and what age limits are required by Microsoft?

  5. AmberDru says:

    If the foreign talent is so great, why do Americans have to train them (their replacements)?

    There Is No Tech Worker Shortage

    There is no empirical data to suggest a shortage; RAND studies show a crisis of surplus workers; the shortage claim is an invention.

    The number of H-1B visas for engineers has exceeded engineering job creation every year since 2001. (Center for Immigration Studies "H-1B Visa Numbers: No  Relationship to Economic Need" June 2008)

    American colleges and universities produce more than enough science, math, and engineering graduates to fill available jobs:

    "The United States’ education system produces

    a supply of qualified [science and engineering] graduates in much greater numbers than jobs available." – "Into The Eye of the Storm," Harold Salzman, Ph.D. , The Urban Institute

    Between 2006 and 2007, the U.S. Department of Education and the Computing Research Association show that colleges and universities graduated more than 203,000 students with Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D.s in the core disciplines of computer and information sciences, math and engineering and engineering technology. This number more than surpasses the 82,000 new jobs expected to be added in computer and mathematical science occupations during this time period. (See AFL-CIO fact sheet)

    "First, no one who has come to the question with an open mind has been able to find any objective data suggesting general 'shortages' of scientists and engineers…. So why, you might ask, do you continue to hear energetic re-assertions of the Conventional Portrait of “shortages”, shortfalls, failures of K-12 science and math teaching, declining interest among US students, and the necessity of importing more foreign scientists and engineers?  In my judgment, what you are hearing is simply the expressions of interests by interest groups and their lobbyists." – Congressional testimony of Michael S. Teitelbaum, Vice President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

    Interest groups (employers, universities, government funders, and immigration lawyers) promote their best interests by perpetuating "shortage" claims, but politicians and journalists often fail to question or analyze the claims. — Teitelbaum

    "Recent policy reports claim the United States is falling behind other nations in science and math education and graduating insufficient numbers of scientists and engineers. Review of the evidence and analysis of actual graduation rates and workforce needs does not find support for these claims." – Urban Institute study "Into the Eye of the Storm"

    Studies finding no shortage of engineers in the U.S. include one by Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa and another by Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University.

    The Duke team found that the often-cited (by the late Sen. Kennedy, Newt Gingrich and others) statistics that the U.S. produces 70,000 engineers annually versus 350,000 from India and 600,000 from China are not valid.

    They found that the U.S. is far ahead by almost any measure.

  6. AmberDru says:

    The H-1B visa program allows skilled immigrants to work in the United States on a supposedly temporary basis. The tech industry says the foreign workers are needed to remedy a tech labor shortage, but for most employers the attraction of H-1Bs visa holders is simply cheap labor. (NumbersUSA)

    In 1998, the cap was raised from 65,000/year to 115,000, despite the Clinton Administration's belief that the tech industry was bluffing "re: their shortage of really highly skilled and desirable workers," according to White House memos. (ComputerWorld, July 2010)

    The Spencer Abraham bill originally stipulated that "factors such as years of experience, academic degree, institution attended, grade point average, publications, and personal traits deemed essential to job performance be considered" in determining the prevailing wage — effectively allowing employers to pick a group of factors that resulted in the lowest figure. As the memo (by Julie Fernandes)

    succinctly put it, the original Abraham bill would have "weaken[ed] the existing program…by essentially repealing the prevailing wage determination requirement." Abraham ultimately removed the provision, but the goal of the bill was obvious: to give employers the ability to choose cheaper workers over older, more expensive U.S. workers.

    John R. Fraser, Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator at the Department of Labor, testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration that:

    "there is simply no conclusive evidence of a shortage of skilled u.s. workers to meet the labor demands of the IT industry"

    Noting that the number of computer science degrees had been rising since 1992, Fraser said, "The presence of more foreign workers may reduce the incentive for U.S. workers to acquire new skills, and fewer employers and institutions may be induced to increase training and education."

    "We must also be cognizant that raising the H-IB cap will almost certainly increase both legal and illegal immigration."

    "Increased immigration should be the last — not the first — public policy response to skills shortages."

  7. Waiting potential immigrant says:

    Thank you sir for making these excellent points to the law makers! No one besides those directly involved know the hoops one has to jump through and the wait involved in getting a green card.

    I have a Masters in Computer Science from a US university, with 10 years of experience in the industry, all in the US. I can find a job anywhere in the world, but I have choose to live in the U.S. because of how I see Americans treat all people as equal.

    I have been waiting for a green card for 5 years now and I live under onerus rules and laws the entire time – so much so that I needed a government document to go attend my father's funeral in my home country.  

    With my current immigration status, I cannot purchase a house without taking an extreme risk of losing it if an immigration officer choses to remove me from the country or stop me at a port of entry. Forget about starting any business venture here.

    I see the clock ticking and all the opportunities passing by me. Like any sane person, I have to question my commitment to live here and make contributions to this society, given the process I have to put myself and my family through. I do hope they do something about the whole immigration process and help people like me who are committed to living here.

    I see many comments on the internet about H1Bs not needed, about how there is pleanty of talent in the US etc. These are made mostly by illiterate and simple minded people who are blind to reality. Such people can hate foreigners all they like, but fortunately they are just a vocal minority.