Global Workers Help U.S. Companies Compete on a Larger Scale

There’s no question that U.S. employers need to fill a constant demand for skilled workers. In December 2018, there were seven million jobs available but only 6.3 million unemployed people were looking for work. So where do companies turn? Increasingly they are accessing a rich pool of talent abroad. Hiring foreign-born workers can be the right solution — especially for highly specialized positions that can take months or even years to fill — according to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Polled in September 2018 and published in December, it probed 785 SHRM members for their perspectives on employment-based immigration and their suggestions for reducing barriers and engaging new talent.

Foreign-Born Talent Boosts Growth 

First, the good news. The view of foreign-based talent is generally positive. 76% of HR professionals say these workers contribute to U.S. economic growth and 74% say they help drive the country’s innovation. When it comes to improving the bottom line, 60% agreed that global talent positively affects the financial growth of their company. Additionally, 64% affirmed that they increase business productivity. Assimilating to a new culture was not a concern, as 65% of respondents believed foreign workers possessed the cross-cultural competencies necessary to relate to the work.

The Visa Process & Paperwork Present Challenges

Though 85% of respondents said it is very or extremely important to recruit talent to meet business needs and stay competitive, they did cite barriers, particularly with visas, that slow the process down. 66% mentioned lengthy processing times, 55% said unpredictability of the visa process and 60% noted complex visa application paperwork. Despite these visa challenges, companies (predominantly manufacturing, high-tech and scientific, and professional and technical services) are forging ahead to sponsor. 52% of organizations sponsored an employment-based visa for at least one hire in the past five years, with most sponsoring between one and 25 (10% sponsored over 100 and 13% sponsored between 26 and 100).

As far as visa usage by type, H-1B (foreign nationals in specialty occupations), J-1 (exchange visitors), F-1/OPT (students in academic programs) and L-1 (intracompany specialized knowledge) made up the majority. Some employers regard Green Cards as a solution, with 37% of organizations having sponsored at least one green card in the past five years.

Paperwork that must be done to verify identity and work authorization for candidates is another hurdle. Form I-9 presents unique challenges with 55% citing maintaining records when keeping track of documents with an expiration date, 31% mentioning the authenticity of documents presented by employees and 25% note balancing Form I-9 compliance with concerns about discrimination and unfair immigration-related employment practices. With regards to challenges of the E-Verify system (67% of those surveyed participate), 40% said it doesn’t replace the Form I-9 process, 28% said the process for resolving tentative non-confirmations was unclear and 22% mentioned the authenticity of documents presented by employees.

Solutions for Finding & Maintaining Global Talent

Human resource professionals must balance compliance with immigration laws and data, which strongly points to a need for a modern, predictable employment-based immigration system, according to the survey. 78% of respondents would stand by a mandatory e-verify system that eliminates Form I-9. 56% of respondents say the U.S. government should create a Trusted Employer Program to streamline the process for low-risk compliant employers to obtain visas. 33% said not enough visas were one of the challenges when hiring talent, implying that policy makers should provide enough visas to allow businesses to recruit, hire, transfer and retain top talent. 81% said they would support a mandatory e-Verify system that authenticates identity — thus making the process more efficient and eliminating some of the unpredictability of the paperwork system currently in place. It’s clear there is a ripe market for finding and maintaining global talent and that innovative and consistent ways of facilitating immigration-based employment are needed. Stay tuned for more robust studies from SHRM to supplement this preliminary survey.