U.S. immigration laws prompt Microsoft to set up shop in Canada

Vendor says development center in Vancouver will help it retain workers from overseas

Microsoft Corp. plans to open a software development center in Vancouver, British Columbia, later this year, partly as a way to recruit and retain talented workers who can't get into or stay in the U.S. because of immigration laws.

The software vendor announced the plans Thursday, saying that the new Microsoft Canada Development Centre will open this fall and be staffed by developers "from around the world."

Microsoft, along with other high-tech companies, has been a vocal supporter of legislation that would increase the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the U.S. on visas such as the H-1B. Currently, businesses are competing with one another for a total of 65,000 H-1B visas that can be issued during the federal government's fiscal year, plus another 20,000 visas that are set aside for workers with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

Demand for the visas is far exceeding the supply: In April, on the first -- and only -- day that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services accepted H-1B applications for the fiscal year that starts in October, about 150,000 applications were submitted.

But a proposed increase in the H-1B cap was sidetracked when the comprehensive immigration reform bill that it was a part of stalled in the U.S. Senate last week. Proponents of a cap increase now are looking at other legislative options.

The shortage of available visas "is especially a problem for Microsoft because they're so big and doing so much hiring," said Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Seattle-based Technology Alliance, an industry group that promotes education, research and entrepreneurial investments in Washington state.

"If you can't use visas to bring people in, you have to take the jobs to where the people are," Malarkey said. Otherwise, companies like Microsoft will simply "lose out on them altogether," she added.

Microsoft didn't reveal the expected size of the Vancouver facility or its precise location. The company said the site in Vancouver  is attractive partly because of its proximity to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

In addition to the software development operations in Redmond, Microsoft currently has development centers in North Carolina, Ireland, Denmark and Israel.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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