Microsoft To Change Hiring Policy After DoJ Finds Immigrant Discrimination

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Software giant Microsoft promises changes after US Department of Justice (DoJ) censures it for over zealous data demands for immigrants

Microsoft has said it will change its hiring practices after the US Department of Justice (DoJ) found violations for immigrants applying for positions at the firm.

In what has been an embarrassing episode for Microsoft, which has an Indian-born American citizen (Satya Nadella) as its CEO, the US DoJ said on Tuesday that Microsoft had demanded more information than was necessary from permanent residents during the hiring process.

The issue of hiring immigrants for highly skilled tech roles became a decisive issue under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella

Political issue

In December 2020 for example, the Trump administration’s DoJ filed a lawsuit against Facebook over its hiring practices.

The DoJ alleged at the time that Facebook had been discriminating against US workers after it “refused to recruit, consider, or hire qualified and available US workers for over 2,600 positions.”

So there was little doubt that President Trump had sought to make it more difficult for tech firms to hire foreign experts instead of Americans, as part of his ‘America First’ doctrine.

But ironically in February 2017, Microsoft (along with Apple and Google) backed legal action against the Trump’s presidential order banning travel for nationals from seven countries.

Now the DoJ announced that it “has reached a settlement agreement with Microsoft Corporation resolving allegations that the company discriminated against non-US citizens based on their citizenship status during the early stages of Microsoft’s hiring process by asking them for unnecessary, specific immigration documents to prove they could work for the company without needing its sponsorship for work visas.”

The settlement also resolves claims that Microsoft discriminated against lawful permanent residents whom the company asked for more or different documents than legally required, to reverify their continuing permission to work in the United States.

The DoJ apparently begin its investigation after a Microsoft applicant’s spouse called IER’s hotline to report that the company asked her husband for his Permanent Resident Card while he was applying for a job at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, facility.

Microsoft discrimination

The investigation apparently found evidence that the company repeatedly asked lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees to undergo an evaluation of their need for Microsoft to sponsor them for an employment-based visa, even though they do not require sponsorship to work in the United States.

The DoJ investigation thus determined that the company discriminated against at least six lawful permanent residents based on their immigration status during this visa evaluation process, by asking them to show a Permanent Resident Card to prove they had permission to work without employer sponsorship.

The investigation also determined that from at least June 2019 until at least January 2020, Microsoft routinely sent emails to lawful permanent residents asking them for documents to confirm their continued work authorisation even though they had already provided documents showing permanent work authorisation.

Microsoft will now overhaul parts of its hiring process to ensure the company is not unlawfully requiring non-US citizen job applicants, including those with permanent authorisation to work, to provide specific immigration documents to prove they do not require sponsorship for a work visa.

Along with some additional steps, Microsoft also must pay civil penalties to the United States and train its employees who are responsible for verifying and reverifying workers’ permission to work in the United States.

“The Department of Justice will continue, through investigations and settlements such as this one, to ensure that all non-US citizens who are authorized to work can pursue job opportunities without facing unlawful discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The department also hopes that this settlement will inspire other employers to ensure that their own policies and practices are not discriminatory,” Clarke said.

Redmond response

A Microsoft spokesperson was quoted by CNBC as saying in a statement that the company is addressing the issues raised in the DOJ investigation and settlement.

“We hire and confirm employment eligibility for tens of thousands of people, and a handful were mistakenly asked for extra information or documentation,” the spokesperson reportedly said. “We appreciate we need to prevent these mistakes and have worked to address these issues and improve our internal processes as part of our commitment to compliance.”

Many tech firms including Microsoft, Google and Facebook regularly hire skilled immigrants, and for years they have lobbied US officials to make it easier to hire talent from overseas.