Annual H-1B Cap Reached, Depriving the U.S. Economy of Vital Talent

Posted by Karen Jones
Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, HR Legal, Microsoft

Yesterday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it had reached the statutory cap for H-1B specialty occupation petitions for fiscal year 2013, giving us a stark reminder of the continuing obstacles created by our country’s current framework for high skilled immigration.

This comes at a time when the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the unemployment rate for computer and math occupations at just 3.5 percent – reflecting the growing shortage of U.S. workers with these skills. Reaching the annual allotment of H-1B visas only 10 weeks after the application filing period opened disrupts U.S. business and stifles growth at a critical time in our nation’s economic recovery by shutting down the hiring of global talent for the next 10 months. Companies like Microsoft—who employ significant numbers of American workers and generate high-paying jobs in the U.S. both directly and indirectly—must be able to hire top talent in areas where we have a shortage of workers in order to succeed and grow in a highly competitive global market.  

This barrier to hiring puts our country at a competitive disadvantage. While U.S. employers are precluded from hiring high skilled workers from around the world, other countries—like Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany and Singapore—are actively attracting these same types of workers and thereby strengthening their competitive capabilities in the global market. Some countries are also actively engaged in programs to repatriate top talent from the U.S. For example, China has offered significant economic incentives to encourage the repatriation of Chinese nationals who have established themselves in the U.S. as scientific elites, high-level managers and entrepreneurs.

Rather than restricting access to top global talent, our country’s approach to high skilled immigration should be enabling U.S. companies to attract and retain the world’s brightest minds so that our economy and our workforce can reap the economic benefits of their brainpower and contributions over the long term. 

There are important steps that Congress can take right now to accomplish this. The House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in November with overwhelming bipartisan consensus, 389-15. The bill would replace the discriminatory “per-country” limits on employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate. The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation.

Additionally, a number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) bills have been introduced by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress: the STAR Act, the SMART Jobs Act, and most recently, the Startup Act 2.0, introduced in both the Senate and the House. These critically important pieces of legislation represent the types of ideas that can help the U.S. retain top foreign students who complete their education at American universities, instead of driving them to compete against us overseas. It’s time for Congress to take a step forward on immigration policy so that the world’s best minds can continue to fuel American innovation and job growth for the long term.

Comments (17)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Australia has a need for IT canada too

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Concerned Educator says:

    The lesson to be taken away from this is to improve our own talent pool.

  4. Garry Mc says:

    There are still sources of Talent, such as from Australia who have their own quota system for US work visas. Australians are also highly regarded for the technical skills. Additionally, spreading where work is done can help with this regard. Microsoft is supposed to be a global company but wants to bring everyone onshore? Spreading the workload to offcies in more 1st World countries may help in this area and also provide more opportunites for highly skilled talent that dont want to move to the US. Having said all that – the H1B visa issue is still that an issue, which needs some fixing.

  5. An immigrant says:


    In theory that sounds reasonable, but doesn't work in reality. Say a team needs 10 developers. They aren't going to open a development center in Australia for their team just for this. Software development is hard enough with teams in the same locale, let alone having to manage teams in 10 different countries. Microsoft might have a development center in Australia (or another country), but not every team has a presence there. So for instance, the Windows team might have a presence there, but the office team might not. Doesn't make sense for the Office team to start, just for 10 people. A LOT of supporting people will need to be added there just for these 10 developers. Costs spiral out of control very fast.

    Also, what do you think is going to happen when those 10 people quit jobs? They'll probably join an australian company. If those people were here, in the US, they'll still pump the American economy.

  6. A Canadian says:

    Just lil over 100 miles from Seattle..Vancouver, Canada offers much better options for immigration.

    Permanent resident system – Very similar to H1B except that it gives so much piece of mind to Immigrants.

    Microsoft – Why don't you increase your operations in our country?

  7. Omar says:

    Canada has great education system and produces top engineers in the world. MS should really consider a development center in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Google has one in Montreal and Waterloo, Ontario.

  8. Garry Mc says:

    @An immigrant

    I wasn't proposing it as a solution but part of one. Though the US can still pull Australians to the US as they have their own personal quota of around 10,500 (E3) per year which never gets remotely reached. Also they can be onshore working within as little as 30 days (ok MS recruitment would put that out quite a bit πŸ™‚ )

  9. Vincenzo Corleone says:

    Perhaps you can explain the discrepancy:

    Below data is from the National Center for Education Statistics. It lists U.S. citizen and permanent resident computer science degrees conferred 2008 & 2009. Below that is from the 2010 Foreign Labor Certification Annual Report of IT occupations with more
    than 1,000 H-1B applications, with the Occupational Employment Statistics employment levels & year-over-year gain/loss (2009 to 2010).

    In those occupations with a LOSS of jobs, there were over 1,000 H-1B applications. In those IT occupations with a job gain, H-1B applications EXCEEDED job growth. These facts disprove the labor shortage thesis. In the aggregate, the US has lost 52,230 jobs
    in these "shortage" occupations between 2009 and 2010.

    U.S. Citizen and Permanent Resident Computer Science Degrees Conferred 2008 & 2009:

    Doctorate Degrees: 974

    Doctorate Degree-Research Scholarship: 423

    Master’s Degrees: 19,387

    Bachelor’s Degrees: 73,795

    Associate’s Degrees: 57,910

    Total 2008 and 2009: 152,489

    Corresponding IT occupations with more than 1,000 Permanent Labor Certifications, with the employment levels & gain/loss:

    Computer Software Engineers, Applications


    OES Employment 2009: 495,500

    OES Employment 2010: 499,280

    Employment Gain/Loss: 3,780

    Foreign Labor Certifications: 9,854

    Computer Systems Analysts


    OES Employment 2009: 512,720

    OES Employment 2010: 495,800

    Employment Gain/Loss: (16,920)

    Foreign Labor Certifications: 5,695

    Computer Software Engineers,Systems Software


    OES Employment 2009: 385,200

    OES Employment 2010: 378,920

    Employment Gain/Loss: (6,280)

    Foreign Labor Certifications: 4,038

    Computer and Information Systems Managers


    OES Employment 2009: 287,210

    OES Employment 2010: 288,660

    Employment Gain/Loss: 1,450

    Foreign Labor Certifications: 1,893

    Computer Programmers


    OES Employment 2009: 367,880

    OES Employment 2010: 333,620

    Employment Gain/Loss: (34,260)

    Foreign Labor Certifications: 1,536

    Source data:

    National Science Foundation WebCASPAR (Educational Statistics)

    U.S. Department of Labor – 2010 Foreign Labor Certification Annual Report…/OFLC_2010_Annual_Report_Master.pdf

    Bureau of Labor Statistics: Office of Employment Statistics

  10. A worker says:

    It would be great if we could be equal to all aliens as part of out talent pool.

  11. Jeff25 says:

    If MS does not want to pay a fair rate for US software developers then developers will migrate to altenative platforms, you would have thought that MS learned this lesson from the spectaculer failure vista turned out to be. Be American hire American  

  12. Thinker says:

    Given the costs and overhead of hiring a foreigner Employers would not do so if there was talent available locally. Note that various regulations validate that talent is not locally available and also prevent hiring foreigners at lower wages.

    Moreover global talent helps create globally competitive market offerings.

  13. Against Microsoft Since 1985 says:

    Shame on Microsoft. With the enormous resources MS has, that you don't contribute to help our own get a quality education. All you do is take forign workers whose government paid for their education, and you do it without making any contribution what so ever. You want free, free, no money no investement and then you complain when you don't get it.

    I don't buy MS products, guess whay not!

  14. USA says:

    We need to educate the people in this countr, the USA. Let the rest of the world take care of themselves. I am tired of supporting the rest of the world why my people are forgotten. The rest of the world can take a hike. You don't like rteading this, whop cares, seriously.

  15. Phillip Weiss says:

    "Given the costs and overhead of hiring a foreigner Employers would not do so if there was talent available locally."

    With employers complaining of a shortage of "qualified" candidates, the term "qualified candidate" cannot be considered entry level salary.  Therefore, the below data should be a fair representation for comparing median salaries against foreign worker salary offers.  In most cases, the Prevailing Wage Determination is low enough to recoup immigration and legal fees associated with employing foreign workers in the first year of employment.

    Most requested Prevailig Wage Determinations with Office of Employment Statistics Mean Hourly wage for Occupations

    Computer Software Engineers, Applications

    Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD): $41.30

    Number of PWDs: 9282

    2010 OES Hourly Mean Wage: $ 43.47

    OES Hourly Wage Delta: $ (2.17)

    Yearly Wage Differential per PWD: $ (4,513.60)

    Computer Systems Analysts

    Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD): $ 37.16

    Number of PWDs: 3330

    2010 OES Hourly Mean Wage: $ 39.06

    OES Hourly Wage Delta: $ (1.90)

    Yearly Wage Differential per PWD: $ (3,952.00)

    Computer Software Engineers, Systems Software

    Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD): $ 44.36

    Number of PWDs: 3092

    2010 OES Hourly Mean Wage: $ 47.10

    OES Hourly Wage Delta: $ (2.74)

    Yearly Wage Differential per PWD: $ (5,699.20)

    Computer Programmers

    Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD): $ 32.52

    Number of PWDs: 1101

    2010 OES Hourly Mean Wage: $ 36.01

    OES Hourly Wage Delta: $ (3.49)

    Yearly Wage Differential per PWD: $ (7,259.20)

    "Note that various regulations validate that talent is not locally available"

    According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor's publication, "Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2006-2011", page 35:

    "H-1B nondependent employers are not subject to the conditions [of having to prove that talent is not locally available], and their 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."

    Source Data:

    U.S. Department of Labor – 2010 Foreign Labor Certification Annual Report

    U.S. Department of Labor – Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2006-2011

    Bureau of Labor Statistics: Office of Employment Statistics

  16. PATRICKPE says:

      Compines like Microsoft love to hire these workers at low wages and their not being able to move to another company, they pay them a lot lower than American engineers and programmers. These companies will lay off American workers beacuse they don't have the software program the company needs and hire immigerant workers at a lot less than American workers. No company  want to train their people anymore, espically when they can get a "captured immigrant" at low wages.

  17. Larry says:

    What an utter lie this post is.  Everyone knows what MS wants, cheap foreign captive labor.  Thousands of talented US citizens — developers, testers, marketers, all passionate about software, can't buy interviews with MS.  And if you read the internet as to what it's like to work at MS these days, from all appearances MS is a deadwood-filled political bureaucracy where most employees spend their time gaming MS' bizarre performance-rating system.  Thank goodness for the Senate.

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