Microsoft: Shortage of tech workers in the US becoming 'genuine crisis'

Microsoft unveiled a lobbying push on Thursday to produce more applicants with the skills to fill technology and engineering jobs.

The proposal would boost visas for high-skilled foreign workers and invest millions of dollars in federal funding for education.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president, said at a press briefing that the lack of qualified job applicants is "approaching the dimensions of a genuine crisis" for tech companies.

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He said Microsoft has 3,400 open jobs for researchers, developers and engineers — an increase of 34 percent over last year.

"We fear jobs will start to migrate to other countries," Smith said, adding that other countries are putting a higher priority than the United States on preparing students for high-skill jobs.

Microsoft will push Congress to pass legislation to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math, fields collectively known as STEM.

The funding would boost training for teachers, offer more computer science courses for high school students and invest in community colleges and four year universities.

The company proposes paying for the education spending by adding an additional 20,000 H1B visas to allow high-skill foreign nationals to work in the United States. Employers would have to pay $10,000 for each employee that receives one of the visas.

The proposal would also reallocate 20,000 unused green cards for high-skilled immigrants. Employers would have to spend $15,000 to hire an employee under this program.

He insisted that even small start-ups would be willing to spend the thousands of dollars to hire qualified foreign workers. He also said Microsoft does not pay workers differently based on their nationality.

"The skill gap is one of the biggest problems Microsoft faces," Smith said. He added that he went to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions last month to discuss the issue with lawmakers. 

Smith said he is optimistic Congress will take up the proposal next year.

Although there is some bipartisan support in Congress for boosting high-skill visas, House Democrats voted down a GOP bill this month because the Republicans also sought to eliminate a diversity visa program.

Anti-immigration groups also question whether more high-skill visas would mean fewer job prospects for American-born workers.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEE), which represents technology workers, said it supports Microsoft's proposal to add green cards but said Congress should not expand the H1B program, which does not grant workers permanent immigrant status.

"It is absolutely critical that their new immigrant employees will be free to change employers and seek higher pay or better working conditions," said Keith Grzelak, the group's vice president of government affairs.

—Updated at 3:01 p.m.