A Microsoft sign outside of an office building

What’s behind Microsoft’s departure from ALEC?

Some people describe watching politics as similar to watching sausage being made. Sometimes the exchange is complex such as the story, true or not, that Frank Sinatra sang eight nights straight at a Mafia-owned club to pay for actions by John and Robert Kennedy after they were in the White House.

Some good news today is that Microsoft is leaving ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded group that supports many right-wing people in the US Congress and in state legislatures, “reportedly because of the group’s lobbying against renewable energy.” It’s a very good thing that Microsoft is joining the many corporations that left ALEC. It is another very good thing that Microsoft may be leaving to avoid association with lobbying against renewable energy.

Is there any connection to another story today? President Obama may soon decide on executive action regarding “a rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders, now barred from working in the U.S., to get jobs.” The H-1B high skill guestworker visa allows employers to hire non-citizens for skilled work often in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Often the spouses would like to work, too, and might have comparable skills. H-1B visas are to Microsoft and other technology companies what fuel prices are to airlines.  Remember that these visas are tied to the employer with no automatic path to citizenship so H-1B visa employees are highly dependent on the employer.

Hiring spouses of H-1B visa holders will further enhance corrupt spousal hiring practices which frequently benefit higher income employees, but rarely benefit low income employees. For example, a university hires a new faculty member under an H-1B visa and uses the spousal hiring policy as a further perquisite. The spouse may never have qualifications to become faculty and may be taking a job away from  other non-tenure staff. I don’t hear of spousal hiring that benefits janitors and food service workers.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is advertised to accommodate mothers and young children, but all proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform offer large increases in the number of H-1B visas corporations can receive to hire non-citizens. President Obama and the Democrats in the US Congress are very much invested in passing the parts of immigration reform that liberalize H-1B visa restrictions. I receive letters from my US Senator justifying H-1B liberalization because the US Dept. of Commerce claims that US corporations are still having trouble hiring enough skilled workers even in this economy. By contrast, US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had a forum held via conference call in May with some real experts about the effects of H-1B visas on the US STEM job market. Senator Sessions followed up with a floor speech in July pointing to the hypocrisy when Bill Gates coauthored an Op-Ed in the New York Times recommending removal of all numeric limits on H-1B visas while at the same time Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 skilled workers. You did not hear about this speech on the evening news did you, among all the other immigration news at the time?

So, August is probably a convenient time for President Obama to make this decision about H-1B spouses. We are wondering whether a Wall Street lawyer can calm decades of racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri in time for the fall TV line-up. The timing is so much better than a Friday News Dump.

Photo by Robert Scoble released under a Creative Commons license.