Sen. Chuck Grassley has something to say to Microsoft about the way the company plans to implement its recently-announced layoffs: Axe the foreign employees first to save more Americans’ jobs.
But such a plan might violate anti-discrimination laws, some legal experts say.
Grassley, who has often decried the of the use of “special occupation” H-1B visa program in the tech industry, sent a letter to Microsoft last week after the company announced it would eliminate 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months.
Noting that last year Microsoft executives went to Capitol Hill to urge for an increase of H-1B visas, Grassley urged the company to prioritize American employees.
“H-1B and other work visa programs were never intended to replace qualified American workers,” Grassley’s letter stated. “Certainly, these work visa programs were never intended to allow a company to retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American workers, when that company cuts jobs during an economic downturn.
“It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs….Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times,” Grassley continued.
Grassley went on to ask the company which types of positions were being eliminated, how many are held by American workers and which are filled by foreign guest workers, and how many guest workers will remain after the reduction in force is completed.
But Cletus Weber, partner at the immigration law firm Peng & Weber, told The Seattle Times that targeting H-1B visa holders might be a legally risky move for Microsoft.
“I know of no immigration law that would require Microsoft or any other U.S. company to lay off its lawfully employed foreign workers first,” Weber told the paper. “To the contrary, I believe arbitrarily laying off lawfully employed foreign workers first would subject these companies to potential legal liability under federal anti-discrimination laws.”