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The Impact of H-1B Visa Changes on Hiring & What to Do About It

The Impact of H-1B Visa Changes on Hiring & What to Do About It

Recent shifts in the H-1B program are impacting hiring for highly skilled roles, especially in sectors that rely heavily on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) talent. The changes followed President Trump’s 2017 executive order, “Buy American, Hire American,” that called for a review of H-1B and other policies thought to impact American workers and products.

For many organizations in the STEM field, this has made filling their available roles much more difficult – particularly for those that already rely heavily on H-1B talent. To compete, these companies must boost their employer brand image, enhance their training and succession planning, and increase their overall flexibility and agility when it comes to hiring.

Here’s a rundown of the changes to the policies, what they mean for hiring (particularly in STEM-reliant industries), and how companies can better compete for existing US-based talent:

What Are H-1B Visas?

US employers seek H-1B visas on behalf of foreign workers they plan to hire for a specific position. The role for which a foreign worker is sought must be part of a ‘specialty occupation’ that faces a shortage of qualified American workers. The program stipulates the salaries for H-1B visa holders must correlate with what US workers would be paid for the role. The tech industry employs the largest number of H-1B visa holders, but other industries also utilize them, including healthcare, finance, and education.

There are 65,000 H-1B visas available for foreign workers with a bachelor’s degree, and 20,000 for workers with a master’s or doctoral degree. Under the visas, foreigners can work three years, with the possibility of extensions and the pursuit of a green card. In recent years, the number of petitions has surpassed the caps and a lottery has been established to choose which applications are considered. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the program.

Supporters of H-1B visas say they fill critical roles for which there aren’t enough skilled American workers and that they support the economy and innovation. Critics say companies are using the visas to hire workers at lower salaries through outsourcing companies.

How Has the H-1B Visa Program Changed?

Primarily, the executive order calls for stricter oversight of the program and deeper investigations into company claims that they can’t fill the roles with US workers. This has resulted in more challenges to visa petitions, requests for more information from applicants, and delays in visa approvals. (Jordan, Miriam. “What Are H-1B Visas, and Do They Hurt American Workers?” The New York Times. Web. 6 April 2018.) In addition, the USCIS has increased the number of spot checks at companies using high numbers of H-1B employees for evidence of fraud and misuse.

Other possible changes coming down the pike include rescinding the right of spouses of H-1B visa holders to work, ending the lottery, and raising the salary of positions for which companies are allowed to seek workers under the visa.

What Do the Changes Mean for Hiring?

Compliance issues are becoming more pressing. Companies must be sure their current and future H-1B visa holders meet the requirements. With surprise checks and reviews, visas could be revoked when the job title, salary, or actual work do not match the requirements.  

The heightened oversight is also causing a slow-down in the awarding of H-1B visas, and resulting in fewer visas awarded.

The result is that an already tight labor market for highly skilled jobs in the US has become even more competitive. To compete, companies must raise the bar to attract high-demand candidates. Below are some recommended actions to achieve this:

Polish Your Employer Brand

Your employer brand speaks to your company's reputation as an employer, and it’s what inspires top candidates to consider taking a position at your organization. Why would a candidate opt for your company over another in the same industry? It’s important to have clear answers to this question, and that the answers are readily available to current and prospective employees. Your brand also improves your company’s ability to retain valuable talent. Whether your business needs to build its employee brand from scratch or refine its existing brand, consider the following steps:

  • Assess your employer brand through employee surveys or discussions.
  • Study employee reviews on sites such as Glassdoor to look for recurring issues.
  • Clarify an accurate and authentic employer value proposition (EVP), including career paths and training.
  • Share your EVP on your careers page, as well as on your company page and on social sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Seek Talent from Within

Don’t overlook skilled people who already work for your organization. This approach is not a quick fix, but is an excellent way to prepare your company for further changes to H-1B visas in the future. To do this requires identifying promising talent, identifying their skills gaps for possible leadership or high-skills roles, and advancing those skills through training. Talent development and succession planning doesn’t happen without time and forethought.

Streamline Your Candidate Experience

Always assume every high-skilled candidate you interview is also interviewing with your competitors. This doesn’t mean you offer them the job before they leave the table. Hiring too fast is as problematic as hiring too slowly. Rather than rushing the hiring process, it’s best to make the experience transparent, seamless, and even enjoyable. Offer the option of video interviews early on so candidates don’t have to travel repeatedly. Communicate with them often; this shows you respect their time and lets them know where they stand. When they stay in the loop, prospective hires are more likely to pause before accepting a competing offer. Introduce them to key people they would work with during the hiring process, to help them (and you) determine if they make a good fit with your company culture.

Historically, the STEM talent market in the US has been tight, and the new H-1B visa restrictions are making it only tighter. These best practices ensure your organization can compete for in-demand talent and attract the high-skills candidates your company needs.  

Need assistance with hiring STEM talent or other skilled workers? Contact us.

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