An influential senator has asked US companies to make efforts to fire foreign workers first while making lay-offs during the current economic downturn - a move that could affect thousands of Indian professionals.
In a letter to Microsoft, which employs thousands of people through the H-1B visa programme, a majority of them Indians, senator Chuck Grassley urged the IT giant to make efforts to retain qualified American workers during its recently announced lay-offs.
Noting that last year, Microsoft had advocated for more H-1B visas in the US Congress, he said the purpose of the H-1B programme for professionals in "specialty occupation" 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, he said.
However, the programme is not intended to replace qualified American workers, Grassley said asking questions of both American and foreign based companies about their use of the H-1B visa programme. A majority of the 60,000 professionals given H-1B visa every year are from India.
In his letter reacting to Microsoft Corporation's reported move to layoff 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months, Grassley expressed concern "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," he told Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.
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 programmes, Grassley said.
"My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa programme employees over qualified American workers," he said.
"Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce. I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention."
"Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times," he said.
Microsoft spokesperson in a statement said: "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."