Senator asks Microsoft about job cuts, visas

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 23, 2009 10:50pm EST

Showgoers check the offerings at the Microsoft booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Showgoers check the offerings at the Microsoft booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. senator has asked Microsoft Corp about its plans to slash up to 5,000 jobs, urging the world's biggest software company to preserve the jobs of Americans ahead of foreigners working on visas.

"I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan," Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a January 22 letter.

Microsoft shocked investors on Thursday when it released quarterly results that missed Wall Street expectations, announced up to 5,000 layoffs and said it would no longer give forecasts for the rest of the fiscal year.

The company has been a champion of expanding the H-1B visa program, a temporary visa program that lets American companies and universities hire foreign workers in a category considered by the government to be a "specialty occupation."

Microsoft said late Friday that some of the people who lose their jobs would likely be non-Americans.

"We care about all our employees, so we are providing services and support to try to help every affected worker, whether they are U.S. workers or foreign nationals working in this country on a visa," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail statement.

Microsoft employs thousands of workers through the visa program, according to Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

The letter asked Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to provide a breakdown of the jobs to be eliminated, and how many of those are individuals with H-1B visas and how many are Americans. Grassley also wants to know what the breakdown will be when the layoffs are complete.

"Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times," Grassley said in the letter, copies of which were provided by his office on Friday.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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