Microsoft to Layoff Some H-1B Holders

In wake of impending layoffs, Microsoft has released a preliminary response to a U.S. Senator who wants the software giant to cut non-citizens first.

The upshot – it’s not that simple.

Microsoft’s answer states that it will indeed layoff a significant number of H-1B temporary work visa holders but that their visiting worker status will not be the primary criterion when it comes to deciding who will stay and who will go.

The statement came in response to a letter from Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley issued last Thursday following Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) announcement that it will cut as many as 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months.

“I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan. As you know, I want to make sure employers recruit qualified American workers first before hiring foreign guest workers,” Grassley’s letter, posted to his website, states.

Grassley, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked Ballmer to respond directly to him in order to spell out how Microsoft is going about its layoffs.

Microsoft officials said they will respond to Senator Grassley’s request for a direct response. However, while the company’s initial response is polite, it doesn’t say it will meet Grassley’s request.

“The initial reductions we announced affect employees in a number of business units, and a significant number of the affected employees are foreign citizens working in this country on a visa,” Microsoft spokesperson Lou Gellos said in a statement e-mailed to

“We made the difficult decisions on which jobs would be eliminated based on a detailed assessment of our current and future business opportunities,” Gellos added.

So-called H-1B visas are non-immigrant work visas that let non-citizens with necessary skills work in the U.S. for as long as six years. Microsoft, as well as many other technology firms, has been a big proponent of expanding the number of H-1B work visas available each year.

“The purpose of the H-1B program is to help companies hire foreign guest workers on a temporary basis when there is not a sufficient qualified American workforce to meet those needs. However, the program is not intended to replace qualified American workers,” says a statement released by the Senator along with his letter to Ballmer.

Microsoft’s Gellos said that such it recognizes the impact on all workers who lose their jobs, not just foreign guest workers.

“For many of the employees here on a visa, being laid off means that they have to leave the country on very short notice, in many cases uprooting families and children … We care about all our employees, so we are providing services and support to try to help every affected worker, whether they are US workers or foreign nationals working in this country on a visa,” Gellos statement continued.

One analyst says that layoffs are rarely simple. In hiring, companies like Microsoft have been forced to look around the globe for qualified tech workers, partly because U.S. universities are not turning out enough new graduates in necessary fields to fill business’ needs.

“It’s not like a traditional layoff where you’re cutting people across the board,” Matt Rosoff, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told

In fact, the layoffs are coming from targeted groups within Microsoft. Additionally, both the size of the layoffs and the size of Microsoft tend to put the issue in perspective.

“It’s a pretty small number [of layoffs] so I don’t think that [Grassley’s request] makes much sense,” Rosoff added.

Rumors of layoffs began swirling around Microsoft and several gossip news sites near the end of last year, with some guesstimates of cuts running as high as 15,000 workers out of Microsoft’s 94,000, or nearly 17 percent.

Luckily, for Microsoft employees anyway, the company initially announced layoffs of around 1,400 workers and a total of up to 5,000 over the next year and a half. However, CEO Steve Ballmer told financial analysts last week that the company will continue to hire in areas where it needs workers, so overall net job losses will be closer to 2,000 to 3,000 over that time.

“I’m sure they’ll look at what the law requires and that’s exactly what they’ll do,” Rosoff said.

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