Local high-tech firms seek permission to hire more foreign workers

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SEATTLE —

Thousands of local high-tech workers are on the unemployment rolls. However, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook are asking Congress to double the number of high-tech workers that American companies can hire from overseas.

Paul Mitzel is an experienced software engineer and project manager.

"You can't even believe what I've done in my past," said Mitzel. "I've written a half million lines of code."  View Paul Mitzel's resume [PDF]

Mitzel is one of some 2,600 unemployed computer workers in our region who are getting assistance from the Workforce Development Council.

But while Microsoft alone has 6,000 job openings, Mitzel can't get a job.

 "Here I am. I would love to go to work for them."

The federal government offers special H1b visas for foreign high-tech workers, but high-tech companies say there aren't enough. With comprehensive immigration reform now before Congress, Microsoft and Amazon are among those asking for 65,000 more high-tech visas.

"I think in general, there is just this gigantic void of tech talent that everybody is pursuing," says Susan Sigl, Executive Director of the Washington Technology Industry Association.

Sigl points to a report from the Washington Business Roundtable that shows a growing shortage of high-tech workers in our state -- 25,000 by 2017.

"Really, if you look at the relative supply coming from H1b visa holders it would be a drop in the bucket relative to what the overall demand is by the tech sector,” said Sigl.

And Sigl rejects criticism that companies are hiring foreign workers because they are cheaper.

 "No, not at all actually, not at all, because they are in high demand,” said Sigl.

Mitzel believes his age places him at a disadvantage; he’s 60, but believes if the demand is so great, why overlook an American who can do the job.

"I think we need to hire our own citizens first," said Mitzel. "There’s no reason why we can't."