Microsoft plans to maintain the proportion of high-skilled immigrant workers on its payroll after it completes its layoffs, the company said Tuesday, responding to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley's query.

Microsoft plans to maintain the proportion of high-skilled immigrant workers on its payroll after it completes its layoffs, the company said Tuesday, responding to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s query.

The day after Microsoft announced its first companywide job cuts in late January, the Iowa Republican asked Chief Executive Steve Ballmer for details of how the layoffs would hit American workers as opposed to H-1B visa holders. Grassley wrote “Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.”

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, in a letter to Grassley posted on a company blog Tuesday, indicated Microsoft does “not expect to see a significant change in the proportion of H-1B employees in our workforce following the job reductions.”

Microsoft plans to lay off a total 5,000 people in the next year and a half, both in the U.S. and abroad.

    Most Read Stories

Foreign guest workers will be let go alongside U.S. citizens, Smith wrote.

At the same time, Microsoft expects to hire 2,000 to 3,000 workers and continue filling some positions opened through attrition.

New hires will be “both U.S. workers and a smaller number of visa holders,” Smith wrote.

The company makes all employment decisions in compliance with civil-rights laws, he added.

Smith also emphasized that more than two-thirds of the company’s planned $9 billion research-and-development budget — much of which goes to employee salaries — will be spent in the U.S.

H-1B visa holders represent less than 15 percent of Microsoft’s work force. And 90 percent of them work in core technology and engineering positions, Smith wrote.

“Although they are a small percentage of our workforce, H-1B workers have long made crucial contributions to Microsoft’s innovation successes and to our ability to help create jobs in this country,” he wrote. “We are confident this will continue to be true in the future.”

Grassley was not satisfied with Microsoft’s response, saying in a statement it lacked specifics.

Material from Bloomberg News is included in this report. Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com