The battle for global talent is nothing new, particularly for those in the mobility industry who for years have been privy to the strategies and tactics of global organizations seeking to attract top talent.
Imagine it as a kind of economic Olympics, where winning depends on what workforce athletes a company can attract and retain. In these games, however, the rules of recruitment—specifically, laws regarding visas and work permits—are in constant flux, with governments often assisting by pulling strings or impeding by putting up hurdles. With the increasing need for organizations to disperse employees across the globe, it’s no wonder that, year after year, immigration laws and regulations are becoming a more frequent topic for consideration.
It is clear that controlling the influx of skilled or non-skilled labor has become a primary driving force for shifting immigration laws. Throughout history, exclusionary tactics have been employed to protect people with certain skills or specific industries. But the next two decades promise the additional challenge of real shortages of talent, which according to the PWC Talent Mobility 2020 report will be the result of, but not limited to: declining birth rates in the U.S.; a reduction of 20 million people in Russia’s working-age population by 2030; and a large percentage (30%) of China’s population reaching age 50 and older at a time when the country is facing significant shortages in leadership skills.
While these trends may not seem to have an immediate impact on global mobility patterns, such demographic shifts will likely influence countries that have typically controlled immigration to open their doors to fill these gaps, leaving emerging market countries ideally placed as the sources of leadership talent and skilled labor rather than the recipients. In the U.S., this has given rise to a strong debate over the H-1B visa regulations. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1990, H-1B visa regulations enabled U.S. employers that required specialized employees to fill critical gaps in their workforce to hire temporary, foreign workers in specialty occupations. Visas were issued per fiscal year and capped at 65,000, with some fluctuations due to legislative changes. Recent loopholes in the law, however, are now allowing companies within the U.S. and abroad to manipulate them in their favor, primarily, some experts say, to satisfy increasing demand for labor in the IT sector by attracting outsourced workers.
The Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and State Department co-administer the H-1B visa application process, with chief responsibility for administering the cap falling under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which typically accepts H-1B petitions in the order they are received. To give you an idea of the demand, USCIS began accepting fiscal year 2016 H-1B applications in April 2015 only to reach the mandated 65,000 cap within a week, giving rise to another debate: expansion.
Expanding the cap has equally strong proponents as it does opponents. Those in favor of H1-B expansion claim that the temporary work visas support specific sectors America struggles to fill such as science, engineering or computer technologies. Those in opposition argue that changes, which include allowing visa holders to seek permanent residency, lack measures to protect U.S. workers. Though the Immigration Act of 1990 eliminated the mandate for H-1B visa applicants to retain a residence in a foreign country in order to ensure they have no intention of abandoning their citizenship, new laws allow H-1B workers to pursue permanent residency and remain in the U.S. until their application for their residency has been determined.
Weighing the need for high-skilled foreign labor against adequate protection for U.S. workers, the H-1B debate at its core represents a deeper meaning: Will the United States continue to uphold the Emma Lazarus quote on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” or collapse under the threat of “invasion?” Though the U.S. was established by a diverse group of hopeful individuals representing numerous nationalities, today it seems that nationality has overshadowed the merits and potential contributions of the individual. Yet, ask anyone who has had the life-changing experience of living and working in another country and chances are, it has provided them with a broader perspective on life, which often translates to an increased awareness of the hardships people face and a tolerance, if not compassion, for the ignorant.
As workforce mobility challenges continue to take center stage, we may do well to ease tensions among nations by first keeping the individual in mind, working to support and encourage his or her transition to new and unfamiliar locales, regardless of politics or pressure from the status quo.
Let the games begin!