H1B, H4 visas: Microsoft could move jobs abroad if US immigration policies turn sour, top exec Brad Smith tells CNBC

New York: Chief Legal Officer and President of Microsoft Brad Smith has warned in an interview with CNBC that the company may be forced to move jobs out of the US if decisions on worker visas by the Donald Trump administration push business in that direction.

"We don't want to move jobs out of the United States and we hope that we don't see decision making in Washington that would force us to do that," Smith said.

 H1B, H4 visas: Microsoft could move jobs abroad if US immigration policies turn sour, top exec Brad Smith tells CNBC

Microsoft. Image: Reuters.

Right wing publications have pounced on the story with the same set of arguments that put Donald Trump in the White House: That “foreign workers take jobs at low salaries and long hours” and this in turn depresses wages for Americans.

This time though, the bulk of the attack after Brad Smith’s interview is directed towards the beleagured H4 work permit and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs. Work permits for spouses of H1B workers goes by 'H4 EAD' - short for H4 employment authorization document; OPT is one type of work permission available for eligible F-1 students. Breitbart is quoting Smith as saying "Microsoft would fund lawsuits to keep the 350,000 OPT and H4 EAD foreign workers in the jobs sought by debt-burdened U.S. graduates."

The newspaper claims that these "visa-outsourcing programs" keep at least "1.5 million foreign college graduates in U.S. jobs."

"We do worry about a couple of the very specific immigration questions that people appear to be debating in Washington," Smith told CNBC's Akiko Fujita in a television interview this week.

Smith also spoke specifically about the H1B and the H4 visa.

The pushback from Microsoft is only the latest in a series of reactions from America’s big tech companies. Yet, now is a critical juncture in the rough patch that the H4 visa is going through.

H1B workers’ spouses who have the H4 EAD (which allows them to work, under an Obama era rule) are fearing for their work permits because the US government has made its intentions fairly clear in this area.

Popular tech recruiting sites like Dice have begun carrying details of Smith’s remarks as tension continues to grip the H4 EAD community in the US which is more than 100,000 strong.

The US tech industry relies heavily on H-1B while critics argue that firms abuse the system to import cheap labor. Microsoft is not alone in its stand; a flurry of business leaders have been condemning the Trump administration's decisions on immigration, including the zero tolerance policy that spiralled into a crisis in recent weeks.

Microsoft has been working its connections in the US Congress and even Senators sympathetic to the cause of legal foreign workers have been writing to the Trump administration but is the needle moving? It’s not clear yet. On paper, the latest that the H4 EAD community has to go by is the spring agenda notice that says the H4 EAD is on the chopping block.

It’s not yet been published as a proposed rule, so every powerful industry voice counts at this stage.

This story will be updated with more details.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 03:19:09 IST