How Immigration Can Help Fill the Talent Gap

Murali Bashyam

Within the past ten years, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and its surrounding cities known as the “Triangle”, have been growing rapidly due to technology and life sciences markets expanding with companies relocating their offices into the area or starting here. With this growth comes the need to staff these new positions with highly-skilled workers in these industries.

RTP is home to 200 companies and counting, Durham boasts an impressive startup scene, Holly Springs is home to international pharmaceutical company Seqirus, and there are plenty of entrepreneurs in smaller towns like Garner and Chapel Hill.”

Raleigh has grown on average 2.05% between 2010 and 2018 bosting a population of roughly 464,000 (2017) and the Raleigh metropolitan estimated at 1.21 million.  By 2040, the Raleigh metropolitan area is expected to have 2.2 million residents.

Job Creation Outpacing Available Workforce

On the economic side of this influx of companies and job opportunities, unemployment in Raleigh was at 3.4% in 2018, which was .5% lower than the national average. The current job market scored at 7.3 out of 10 according to US News. While this can be beneficial for job seekers, this can pose a serious problem for employers in being able to staff their companies and their projects with the best talent if the job opportunities outpace the number of available workers.

Based on the most recent NC Annual Economic Report, North Carolina is experiencing a “tight labor market”, which means that the state has relatively few jobseekers per job opening. The positions that have to be filled for companies coming into the state are those requiring highly specialized knowledge, thus requiring at least a Bachelor’s or advanced degree. Based on reports by My Future NC, 67% of NC jobs require a degree or certificate.

So what strategy can a company implement to find the best employees when job creation is outpacing the number of available workers?

Foreign Workers and Non-immigrant Status

A viable option for filling positions when American workers are not available is the hiring of foreign workers. The most commonly used visas to be able to employ a foreign worker are H-1B visa, L-1 visa, E-1/E-2 visa, E-3 visa, TN visa, and the O-1 visa.

  • H-1B—The visa most companies use to hire foreign professional workers. The company can hire a student or valid non-immigrant worker already in the U.S. or bring in someone who resides outside of the U.S. by sponsoring them for an H-1B. There is an annual cap for initial H-1Bs.
  • L-1—This visa category allows employees who currently work for a company with a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate in the U.S. to transfer from the abroad entity to work in the U.S. These workers can come to the U.S. as intra-company transferees who are coming temporarily to perform services either 1) in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or 2) in a specialized knowledge (L-1B) capacity for a parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of the same employer that employed the professional abroad.
    • This category works best for companies with specialized proprietary knowledge and for the executives and essential managers of company to come to the U.S. to grow the company.
  • E-1/E-2 – The Treaty Trader (E-1) or Treaty Investor (E-2) visa is for a national of a country, with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, who is coming to the U.S. to carry on substantial trade, including trade in services or technology, principally between the U.S. and the treaty country, or to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which the national has invested, or is in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.
  • E-3 – Available only for Australian nationals going to the U.S. to work temporarily in a professional position.  The requirements are similar to an H-1B visa, but the process is faster since the employee can apply directly at the US consulate and receive a decision.
  •  TN—The nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the United States in specific positions listed in NAFTA.
  • O-1 – The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for an individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

Based on a  Pew Research Center study, foreign national students comprise 56.9% of all doctoral degrees in engineering; 52.5% of all doctorates in computer science and information systems; and roughly 50% of doctorates in mathematics and statistics respectively. As with undergraduate degrees, foreign students are more concentrated in STEM fields than U.S. college students as a whole.

Meaning that if you are looking for talent within the fields of STEM, then you are likely to have to find employees that require sponsorship.

How do I handle this as an employer?

Companies need to hire the right candidates for their positions. A candidate must have the necessary education and skillset to be successful and provide the best service to the employer.  These skills are becoming increasingly more difficult to find within the American workforce, so one can conclude that the need for foreign workers continues to remain a constant or even increase.

If North Carolina is going to continue to welcome in large technology and life sciences companies, they must be prepared to cultivate a workforce of both American and foreign workers. Searching more broadly and casting a wider net when searching and recruiting candidates will benefit companies during the time of tight labor market and even after when job growth slows. Implementing these strategies now will allow companies to be more informed and successful with their staffing strategy.

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