It’s been well documented that the labor market is very tight across the U.S. With the unemployment rate sitting below 4 percent for most of the year, and with employers continuing to add jobs as they recover from the pandemic, filling open positions has become increasingly challenging.
In this environment, looking at workers from outside the U.S. can be a great way to fill a talent pipeline, particularly for employers that haven’t gone down this path before. Manufacturers, agricultural operations, hospitality businesses and others can all utilize different visa programs to find the right employees. However, it’s important to understand the basics of these programs — as well as some challenges and limitations — to ensure your organization can successfully navigate the process.
Immigrant or nonimmigrant status
Visas are generally separated into two categories: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are for individuals who intend to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis once they arrive. Nonimmigrant visas are for people who only plan on being in the country for a set amount of time, such as students who take classes abroad or seasonal workers who anticipate returning to their home country after completing a job.
Employers can sponsor foreign nationals in both categories. The requirements vary depending on the specific visa, but in general, employers essentially are asked to confirm that they do in fact plan on employing the individual.
Visa challenges and limitations
There are annual caps on some visa types, which can present challenges both to prospective workers as well as employers. For example, the H-1B visa — a frequently used temporary visa reserved for highly skilled individuals in fields such as science and engineering — has an annual limit of 65,000. However, USCIS has already received nearly 500,000 applications so far this year. The H-2B visa, which is for nonagricultural seasonal workers, is capped at 66,000 per year and also typically has demand that exceeds supply.
Visa limits, as well as the processing time it takes to go through applications, can lead to long waits for workers and employers as they seek approval. Businesses that plan on pursuing non-citizen talent should anticipate this lengthy process and factor it into their overall hiring strategies. It’s also worth keeping an eye on any significant changes to immigration regulations, as reform efforts could increase or eliminate some of these caps in the future.
A path forward
Even with the challenges noted above, businesses can benefit greatly by having a global talent pipeline. Finding employees with the right skills and training can be hard in today’s market, and many foreign workers are well-equipped to succeed. For example, the National Association of Manufacturers notes in a recent report that more than 70 percent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the U.S. with advanced degrees are born outside of the country. These individuals possess specialized training that can help organizations across many industries, and employers that support their arrival to the country can get a leg up in the race for top talent.