Congresswoman Suzan DelBene speaks with Darcy Nothnagle of Google, right, and Bradley Meacham of Vertafore during a roundtable discussion on high-tech immigration at the Concur headquarters in Redmond.

Microsoft has led the push to allow more high-tech workers into the United States under H-1B visas by charging companies an extra fee that would help fund science, technology, engineering and math education for the next generation of American workers.

But the tech industry is far from universal in its support for this concept.

That much was clear during a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, the former Microsoft executive now representing Washington’s 1st Congressional District, covering much of the Eastside.

Sailesh Chutani, MobiSante CEO looks on as Congresswoman Suzan Delbene speaks to the group yesterday at Concur headquarters.

DelBene, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is holding a series of meetings on immigration reform this week. She spent an hour Wednesday afternoon with representatives of several tech companies — Google, Concur, Vertafore, MobiSante, Data I/O, and iLink Systems — at the Concur headquarters in Redmond. GeekWire was there to listen in.

One of the questions asked by DelBene was about the plan to charge companies to increase the limit for H-1B visas.

“From a startup perspective, the fees are already pretty steep. We can barely afford them,” answered Sailesh Chutani, the MobiSante CEO, and a former Microsoftie himself. He said he understands the plan from an intellectual perspective, including the need to support education at all levels. However, he said, “from a startup perspective, it’s onerous.”

Bradley Meacham of insurance software company Vertafore also stressed the importance of STEM education but echoed Chutani’s sentiment about costs.

“We’re looking for the best talent, period,” Meacham said. “If we can’t find enough talent locally, we are forced to look at people outside our borders. It is expensive, and it is time consuming. I can’t really see how adding expense would get to a solution.”

Tech companies have long complained that the caps are too low for bringing immigrant high-tech workers into the country — often raising objections from tech workers in the U.S. who say companies aren’t doing enough to take advantage of the talent that’s here.

Microsoft originally recommended that Congress create a new, supplemental allocation of 20,000 additional visas, charging employers $10,000 per worker brought to the country under one of those visas. More recently, a bipartisan Senate proposal would instead charge employers an extra $1,000 for every H-1B visa, and increase the annual quota from 65,000 to 115,000.

Overall, the executives meeting yesterday with DelBene said that reform should make the immigration system more transparent and less expensive. Several expressed support for granting green cards to foreigners who graduate with advanced degrees.

Several of the executives told horror stories about dealing with the immigration system. Cindy Olsen, vice president of human resources for Concur, recalled her unsuccessful attempt to bring an employee from the Philippines into the U.S. for a companywide meeting.

“To think I didn’t have any control over that was a new experience for me,” she said. “You don’t know why they’re denied, and if you keep trying, then you risk them never being able to come here. Personally for me, that was a really trying situation. They were part of the Concur family, you would think that we could get them here, but there was nothing I could do.”

After the meeting, DelBene acknowledged the concerns raised about the costs of the H-1B program for companies, and said she believes reform needs to include a comprehensive look at expenses.

“We need a system that works for everybody,” DelBene said. “I do think that complexity adds to the expense. I think we need to look generally at the overall system and what the costs are, and make sure we have a system that works, so that people can understand — not just businesses, but people who are coming into this country can understand how our immigration system works. That actually will reduce the cost for everybody involved.”

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  • Manan

    When Meecham says they look local then look “outside their border” is he implying that considering students who come to the US for education are still considered “outside their border” or is he referring to actually going “outside their border”?

    • Jobs4US

      There’s an alphabet soup list of student and work visas with loopholes companies exploit to bypass Americans for US jobs.

  • Roy Lawson

    42,501 of the visas in 2012 went to just 12 offshore outsourcing firms. Enough is enough.

    The solution is simple. Let’s get rid of the fees entirely. We don’t even need the training fees. That has no meaningful impact and gives a bad program political cover. What we need is a $100k “Microsoft Minimum Salary”. Give us that and those of us who have been opposing the visa would also support an unlimited cap.

    We wouldn’t need a cap if we had the $100k minimal H-1b salary (~$50/hr) because the companies abusing the visa would be priced out of the market. Microsoft says that they pay their workers six figures anyways and as long as they were honest about that point they should love that idea.

    Forget about those crying about how they want cheap labor to start their business. This visa is suppose to be about delivering skills in limited supply. Startups can do just fine without this visa. If you need cheap labor to start your business in tech, you are under capitalized. Don’t bother. Or partner with someone who does have the capital. If you can’t get investors, it’s probably because of you. Don’t blame a lack of cheap labor on it.

    I just checked out to see what this guy is crying about and here is what I encountered: “Error establishing a database connection”. So you guys have bigger problems than a lack of cheap labor. Cry me a river.

    • Wolfgang

      $100k/year really isn’t enough to fix what is a systemic problem.

  • Jobs4US

    @MsOlsen H-1b visas are not necessary for an employee to attend a company meeting – B-1 business visas are intended for this purpose.

    Do you know the dirty secret about H-1b visas? Under H-1b visa laws, companies are NOT required to consider Americans.

    “Here is what the Labor Department says about the current law: ‘H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of a foreign worker’ …Is that what we had in mind with H-1B visas? That certainly wasn’t the way it was explained to me.”
    Statement of Senator Dick Durbin on the Senate Floor

    Fact – Microsoft and other companies exploit loopholes in H-1b visa law to bypass American talent and recruit exclusively offshore. Furthermore companies can fire Americans and replace us with foreign citizens – 100% legal.

    NPR just learned about the secret yesterday and should be commended for correcting their error about the H-1b visa on national radio today. Story here

    The mythical high skill labor is the BIG lie – the only reason Microsoft can’t find skilled American talent is because they are not looking – and legally not required to.

    Get the facts here

    • Lunatic fringe

      Microsoft hires far more US employees than it does H1b’s. So your last statement is nonsensical – they’re always looking locally and in most cases finding talent there as well. But America doesn’t have a monopoly on smart people. So MS, IBM, and many others want to secure some of that talent as well. Now let’s look at the alternative. Without enough H1b’s, those smart people can’t come to the US and instead set up competing companies overseas. Who loses then?

      • That Long Haired Guy

        The percentage of employees that Microsoft hires from the US vs. overseas isn’t the issue, the question is if the H1B employees are being used to lower wages by displacing qualified US citizens. Given that Microsoft’s primary operating expense is labor they have a strong motivation to go overseas for cheaper labor.

        As far as H1B’s setting up their own companies overseas… they should go for it. H1B employees are not coming to the US to start companies in the US, they’re filling staff positions.

        • Jobs4US

          Actually the issue is the law. Current H-1b visa law, influenced by Microsoft (also known as the Abramoff and Outsourcing visa) , allows companies to exclusively recruit offshore for US jobs and replace Americans in jobs with foreign visa workers. The reason Microsoft can’t find US talent – they aren’t looking for it – and legally they don’t have to.

      • Roy Lawson

        That’s not how the H-1b works. They really have no chance of setting up shop here, at least unless they are able to get from under the thumb of their sponsoring employer. Marriage?
        The majority of the workers coming here are junior level – that is especially true at the bodyshops. According to a Congressional report, 25% of Microsoft’s H-1b workers are defined as entry level. I would say Microsoft is probably one of the best case scenarios when it comes to sponsorship.
        But Microsoft is in the minority. 42,501 visas to just 12 offshore outsourcing companies. This visa is mostly about cheap labor and outsourcing of jobs. There may be exceptions, but those are exceptions and not the rule.

  • UnionNow!

    Does anyone think that DelBene isn’t bought and paid for by Brad Smith and Steve Ballmer?

    It’s time for Microsoft employees to unionize.

    • Solidarity Forever

      It’s hard to decide which of your comments is stupider. Reckless allegation with no support provided or idiotic suggestion to take MS’s already oppressive bureaucracy and add an equally productivity sucking union structure to it.

      • guest

        The support for the allegation is on Microsoft’s website. Her husband is an exec there:

        Tell me her policy stance on this isn’t being dictated by Microsoft. Why does she get a pass on this anyway? If she were a rep in Texas and her husband were an oil exec and she was holding hearings on gulf drilling, you’d bet there’d be outcry for conflict of interests.

        It would be best if there was no bureaucracy or need for unions. But the bureaucracy now is aimed at crushing the employees for the benefit of the Partners (of which DelBene is one). No one is looking out for the employees any more so a union is the only option.

    • Jobs4US

      Special interest legislation funded by companies like Microsoft is why we are where we are. It’s time for campaign finance reform and restoring Equal Opportunity at Microsoft – give current and former US employees a fair chance to compete for jobs at Microsoft before shipping them offshore – we’re more than ready, willing and able to do the job.

  • smellslikerubbish

    If you want to support government action to prevent the H-1B cap from increasing, you can now sign a White House petition available at

  • Jobs4US

    “Here is what the Labor Department says about the current law:

    H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of a foreign worker.”
    “It is hard to believe, but it is perfectly legal to use the H-1B visa program for outsourcing… “They (companies) are not required to make any efforts
    to recruit American workers for these (H-1b) jobs. In fact, they can explicitly discriminate against American workers who apply for the same jobs by recruiting and hiring only workers from their home country.”

    Is that what we had in mind with H-1B visas? That certainly wasn’t the way it was explained to me….

    “Is that what we have in mind, to create this perverse discrimination against American workers? That isn’t the way it was explained to me. ”

    Senator Dick Durbin, Testimony on the Senate Floor
    Source:Congressional Record- Senate May 8, 2007

  • Jobs4US

    Below are references and recent stories that expose the hidden discrimination in H-1b visa law that companies don’t want you to know

    NPR: Feb 21, 2013 American Tech Workers Challenge H-1B Visa Story

    Daily Caller Feb 22, 2013 Job ads, lawsuit show US companies discriminating against Americans

    Senator Dick Durbin Testimony – May 8, 2007 Congressional Record Senate, Vol
    153, Pt 8 #11591

    Learn more

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