Staffing professionals and employers in the United States are well aware of the tremendous value of the H-1B visa, particularly in the fiercely competitive IT industry, where growing demand exceeds the qualified talent pool in this country. As the current administration evaluates employment-based visas for foreign nationals, the H-1B program is undergoing changes with potential new constraints, thereby further limiting access to international expertise.
Regarding the H-1B program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has temporarily suspended premium processing of petitions, increased scrutiny of computer programmer and entry-level positions and required an in-person interview for applicants for employment-based adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence. Anticipated changes this year include revisions to the H-1B lottery to prioritize highly skilled and highly paid workers, a revised specialty occupation definition to protect U.S. workers and more.
Given the ongoing changes to and uncertain future of the H-1B visa, employers and staffing specialists should leverage other sourcing opportunities to help U.S. companies meet critical talent needs and maintain competitiveness. Currently, several viable visa alternatives to H-1B exist to place foreign talent in highly skilled tech positions. Among them:
- TN – As part of NAFTA (therefore, also subject to change under this administration), the TN visa allows U.S. employers to hire professionals in 63 specific professional occupations – such as computer systems analyst, management consultant and engineer – from Canada and Mexico for three years, with indefinite renewals. This is a significantly more economical and efficient process than that of the H1-B, with immediate availability of a multitude of computer science experts who typically are easily acclimated to American culture.
Given the many benefits of the TN program to help fill gaps left by H-1B, I recently launched TechBridge, which specializes in offering U.S. employers streamlined access to qualified IT talent from our North American neighbors.
- H-1B1 – Qualified nationals of Singapore and Chile can access 6,800 visas annually, which are approved in one-year increments, but do not have a six-year maximum like H-1B.
- E-3 – Australian nationals that are professionals in a specialty occupation can opt for the E-3 visa, which is granted for an initial period of two years, with unlimited extensions. Up to 10,500 E-3 visas are issued annually.
- L-1 – For multinational companies, this enables workers to be transferred to the United States as a manager, executive or specialized knowledge professional. Candidates must be employed full-time abroad for at least one continuous year within the past three years for the petitioning company, or a parent, subsidiary or affiliate. There is no quota for this program, but applications are highly scrutinized.
- O-1 – Reserved for individuals with extraordinary talents that seek to work temporarily in the United States, the O-1 visa mandates leading professionals in their field or specialization. Standards are high, but not impossible. No quota exists, and visas are issued for up to three years, with indefinite renewals, based on the employer’s ability to demonstrate its need for this talent.
- F-1 – Employers who have foreign students on F-1 visas working toward optional practical training (OPT) can petition for H-1B status. If declined, students who receive academic degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) are eligible for OPT up to three years, provided that the employer is enrolled in the government’s E-Verify program.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and future changes to any of these visa programs are unpredictable. With the challenges of the current IT talent shortage, the smartest organizations are taking advantage of several different sourcing strategies based on a combination of factors, including urgency, expertise needed, duration, price and more.