Senator Slams Microsoft's Visa Hypocrisy As MSFT Searches For Foreign Workers While Laying Off Others

Microsoft's plans to lay off some 18,000 employees have caused ripples in the tech industry -- it's one of the largest layoffs ever announced at a major IT company -- and some of those ripples have spread to Capitol Hill. On Friday, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) tore into Microsoft for the hypocrisy of pushing for more H1-B visas while it simultaneously laid off thousands of workers.

Sessions blasted a recent op-ed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Sheldon Adelson in which the three industry titans called for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, noting that:

What did we see in the newspaper today? News from Microsoft—was it that they are having to raise wages to try to get enough good, quality engineers to do the work? Are they expanding or are they hiring? No...

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that three-fourths of Americans with STEM degrees—science, technology, engineering, mathematics—don't have jobs in STEM fields. According to a recent newspaper from the Economic Policy Institute:

‘Guest workers may be filling as many as half of all new information technology jobs each year.’

It goes on. ‘IT workers earn the same today as they did, generally, 14 years ago.’ Wages aren't going up, and in many cases they are going down. That is an absolute refutation, I think—if you believe in the free market—of any contention that we have a shortage of engineering, science, and STEM graduates.  

The paper further says: ‘Currently, only one of every two STEM college graduates is hired in a STEM job each year.’ So only half of them find a job in the profession they trained for.

Another finding of the paper: ‘Policies that expand the supply of guest workers will discourage U.S. students from going into STEM fields, and into IT in particular.

Sessions has been previously ranked one of the most conservative members of the Senate -- he's passionately anti-immigration, anti-marijuana legalization, anti-woman, and anti-marriage equality. On this issue, however, he's not necessarily wrong -- more than a few studies have shown that the idea that America has a STEM education shortage is a modern myth. In fact, based on employment figures, the opposite is true -- huge numbers of hard science PhDs are either being forced to take work outside their field of study or spending years in postdoc positions before finally securing a job.

Critics of these figures have tried to claim that they're either inflating data by including humanities graduates or that there's some nefarious "redistribution" beliefs poisoning the well. One Washington Monthly writer attempts to claim that because STEM degrees now pay an average premium of 30% as opposed to 22% in 1990, this must be evidence of greater demand than supply for tech workers -- ignoring the question of whether an eight percent premium in salary is fair compensation in exchange for the literally hundreds of billions of dollars STEM employees have collectively generated over the past 24 years. The colossal wage collusion scam between many of the top employers in Silicon Valley make this an extremely salient point. Silicon Valley's age discrimination is another sore point -- many of these companies have been sued for preferential hiring practices.

The IEE Spectrum has weighed in on the question of whether or not there's an actual STEM shortage. After reviewing hundreds of studies, papers, and estimates, it concluded that the gap -- at least as claimed by many of the titans of industry, who just happen to be looking to hire cheap labor -- does not exist.

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Why, then, are big IT companies pushing the narrative of a problem? Because H1B Visas are cheap. With ready access to a young supply of labor from top foreign universities, companies can aggressively cut the expensive engineers and product developers with families, children, or grandchildren.

The idea that we "must" bring in hundreds of thousands of additional H1B workers is the same false characterization as the idea that we had to export all of our best manufacturing jobs in the 1970s. Other developed nations, with fully functional market economies, made different decisions, retained a greater percentage of those jobs in-country, and still have a higher percentage of well-paying jobs that don't require advanced college degrees.

We'd be curious to know if Sessions would have made his comments if he'd realized that some 13,000 of the 18,000 jobs Microsoft is cutting are Finnish jobs attached to Nokia, but he's not wrong to cast doubt on the H1B narrative -- or to ask who benefits from looser restrictions.