U.S. Employers Expect to Hire More Foreign Workers Despite Possible Immigration Restrictions

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer February 22, 2017
U.S. Employers Expect to Hire More Foreign Workers Despite Possible Immigration Restrictions

A majority of U.S. companies plan on hiring foreign nationals in 2017 despite signs from President Donald Trump's administration that it intends to make it more difficult to hire from abroad.

A national survey of 442 HR professionals and hiring managers was conducted by Harris Poll in late 2016, and commissioned by Envoy, an immigration services provider based in Chicago.

"Despite uncertainty surrounding how the current administration will restrict legal immigration or trade, the survey results reveal that the desire of, and necessity for, employers to hire and mobilize a global workforce remains very real," said Dick Burke, president and CEO of Envoy.

Fifty-nine percent of responding employers expect their demand for foreign workers to increase this year, and 55 percent said they plan on hiring foreign talent in 2017, a 21 percent increase from 2016.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: How do I hire a foreign national to work in the U.S.?]

The majority of respondents believe that immigration is a critical component of a broader talent acquisition strategy; 63 percent said sourcing foreign national employees is extremely or very important to their companies' talent acquisition strategy, up significantly from 42 percent the previous year.

Organizations reported that hiring and developing foreign talent is "very or extremely important" to:

  • Fill skills gaps (77 percent).
  • Remain competitive globally (76 percent).
  • Increase diversity (73 percent).
  • Acquire knowledge of foreign markets, business practices and cultures (73 percent).
  • Manage and expand global business (71 percent).

Respondents to the Envoy survey said that the No. 1 change they would make within the U.S. immigration system is quicker processing (84 percent). Over half (55 percent) reported that requests for evidence have increased in the past five years.

The Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), a nonprofit trade association based in Alexandria, Va., and an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, conducted a survey last year in which 74 percent of 239 employers responding said that the ability to obtain work visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to business objectives. Sixty-three percent of those respondents do not believe that current immigration processing times are reasonable. The survey results will be made available next week.

"A system that gives employers only a 36 percent chance of getting an H-1B, that varies widely in adjudications from case to case, and involves processing times that can sometimes reach six months or more for benefits requests creates a lot of uncertainty for employers," said Lynn Shotwell, CFGI executive director. "Employers thrive on predictability, and it becomes difficult to keep projects running smoothly when the system falls behind."

Future Executive Order May Target Work Visas

Trump has repeatedly said his administration may limit foreign work visas and apply stricter controls on employers. Critics of employers that hire foreign nationals say the practice displaces U.S. workers.

The president's executive order temporarily banning travel for certain foreign nationals—now blocked by court order—caused an international uproar, but what may be next is even scarier for employers relying on the U.S. immigration system for talent. A leaked draft of an executive order which was made public in late January shows that the administration intends to restrict the use of a variety of work visa programs, including the common B-1 business visa. U.S. employers would have to try to hire U.S. workers first, and if they did bring in foreign talent, employers offering the highest-paid jobs would get priority for the visas.

"The as-of-yet unsigned executive order would make sweeping changes to the employment-based immigration process," said Sameer Khedekar, a partner with the Pearl Law Group, an immigration law firm in San Francisco. "There are several proposals in the draft order, but one of the most pressing changes would be a rescission of the work authorization benefit for those in H-4 status."

Select H-4 visa holders—the spouses of H-1B workers who have been approved to seek employment-based lawful permanent resident status or whose H-1B status has been extended beyond the six-year limit—became eligible for employment authorization in May 2015.

Khedekar noted that proposals in the draft order are vague but may also include:

  • A consideration of new allocation methods for H-1B visas. "This language is intentionally vague, but taken in concert with prior statements, we believe that the White House intends to begin by making it more difficult for IT outsourcing companies—often the heaviest users of the H-1B visa—to place their H-1B employees at U.S. worksites, especially to replace recently laid off U.S. workers. They may also mandate a minimum national salary for all H-1B workers, though this initiative will meet with more resistance given the variety of industries and geographic markets involved in the H-1B program."
  • Increased site visits to L-1 employers. "We recommend that all employers train their designated contacts at each of their sites to prepare for these site visits," Khedekar said. "They will need to know what to say, what information to have at the ready and who to involve when inspectors come knocking."

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