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US Employers View Immigration as a Solution to Labor Shortages

SHRM seeks improvements to the immigration system

A group of permanent resident visas are stacked on top of each other.

​A majority of employers agree that modernizing the U.S. immigration system will boost economic growth, lessen labor shortages and ensure that the U.S. maintains a competitive edge in attracting and retaining global talent, according to recent research from SHRM.

"As the economy emerges from the pandemic, employers see workplace immigration as a solution to workforce challenges, a driver of economic growth and key to keeping the United States globally competitive," said Emily M. Dickens, SHRM's chief of staff and head of public affairs. "Congress has an opportunity to modernize the system and contribute to the long-term success of our economy and our entire workforce."

SHRM is working toward updating the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs immigration to and citizenship in the United States.

Key findings from the survey—which included HR professionals working at 2,505 organizations of all sizes representing 19 different industries—include:

  • 73 percent of responding employers agreed that increased immigration encourages economic growth and makes America more globally competitive.
  • 78 percent of employers disagreed that increased immigration would make it harder for U.S. workers to find jobs.
  • 54 percent agreed that the U.S. is losing out on top talent because of its immigration system.
  • 57 percent of organizations reported that they would benefit from an increase in legally authorized workers on visas.
  • 46 percent of U.S. organizations said they are experiencing workforce disruptions because of a shortage of available workers. The organizations most likely to report workforce disruptions because of a shortage of workers are in critical industries like health care (59 percent), manufacturing (58 percent) and education (57 percent).

"There are a really high number of job openings in the U.S. and a really low unemployment rate," said Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. "That suggests that immigration could be a source of continued labor force growth. At the same time, other high immigration countries around the world are competing for top talent—we're seeing Canada and Germany increasing their quotas and trying to bring in many more migrant workers to boost their workforces in the face of aging populations."

As an immigration attorney, Addie Hogan, founding partner at Corporate Immigration Partners in San Francisco, is a witness to how difficult working within the immigration system can be.

"Take the H-1B [visa]," she said. "It's not easy. It's expensive. The filing fees are high and will increase. You have to hire a lawyer. Employers are not going to go through that hassle if there is not a need. There is clearly a need for the talent."

Pain Points

SHRM found that while 96 percent of organizations that have hired foreign-born workers describe their experience with these employees as positive, only 52 percent describe their experience with the U.S. immigration system as positive.

The top two "pain points" that organizations face when working within the U.S. employment-based immigration system are processing delays and unpredictability.

Over half of responding employers (55 percent) agreed that it is risky to invest in foreign-born talent because of the uncertainty in the immigration system and said they would be willing to invest time, effort and resources into pursuing foreign-born talent if there was more certainty in the system.

About 25 percent of responding organizations that do not hire foreign-born talent on employment-based visas said they don't hire those workers because the process is too burdensome.

"We had processing delays before the pandemic, but the delays ballooned during the pandemic," Gelatt said. "The government is taking in many more applications than what it can process and complete every month. USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] has worked on different ways to find efficiencies, but the backlogs are still pretty bad."

Hogan said that there has been a little more certainty on the temporary worker side "after the Trump years, where it was really unpredictable."

Even though there are quotas and not everyone will receive a visa, at least petitions are moving through the process, she said.

"The unpredictability is in the green card process," she added. "Think of a foreign worker who graduated school here, got an H-1B and begins to set up their life here by applying for permanent residency. It may take 50 years to get a green card."

Hogan noted that just the first step in the green card process—getting a prevailing wage determination from the Department of Labor (DOL)—is taking up to a year, when it used to take weeks.

"And DOL may deny a case for a typo," she said. "That's what makes it so frustrating."

System Improvements

SHRM research found that employers would like to see these top five improvements to improve access to foreign-born talent:

  • Enable electronic filing throughout the system. "Electronic filing already exists for the green card process, and it works well," Hogan said. "I don't know why the government can't move to full electronic filing faster. That would be helpful."
  • Introduce automatic renewals on a continuous basis.
  • Provide more guidance from government agencies.
  • Increase the number of employment visas available. "The 140,000 employment-based green cards available each year is far short of the number of immigrant workers being absorbed by the U.S. economy," Gelatt said. "There are a lot of migrant workers coming in from other channels, such as the family-based route or through asylum."
  • Create a "Known Employer" program that streamlines the process for employers that submit multiple applications. "Employers have told me how duplicative the processes are. They have to send the same information to the DOL and USCIS, and if they are high volume, applying year after year and providing that same information to multiple agencies again and again, how it would make sense to have an upfront preclearance process," Gelatt said. 

" 'Known Employer' would be great," Hogan added. "We file petitions for companies and waste time and resources on a request for evidence for a company that is public and has a known revenue of billions of dollars. Let's have a database of known employers where the USCIS officer can go in there and check that certain companies are vetted for the process."


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