The changes to US immigration policy, particularly the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled foreign workers, proposed by President Donald Trump have made many US employers who depend on access to a global talent market wary of potential changes to come, and is leading them to prepare for a possible future in which foreign talent is harder to hire. The tech sector is particularly reliant on global talent, and a data report released last week by the online recruiting platform Hired shows that Silicon Valley has significantly reduced its international hiring since Trump took office in January:
Our research revealed a 60% decrease in requests from US-based companies to foreign workers from Q2 to Q4 2016, which was likely the result of uncertainty around immigration policies generated by the election. This uncertainty abated to some extent post-election, but in Q2 2017, US interest in foreign workers was still down 37% year over year.
Hired also found, however, that nearly half of tech sector workers believe the H-1B program is flawed, particularly non-US citizens who are most familiar with the way it works:
Though the findings illustrate the issue’s complexity and underscore the need for reform, the exact nature of this reform remains nebulous. President Trump has advocated for prioritization of foreign workers who hold advanced degrees, which was echoed by the respondents in our survey. In fact, respondents indicated that this was their number one suggestion for fixing the program, followed by increasing the number of H1-B visas issued, overhauling the lottery in favor of an auction or other system of allotment, and increasing the minimum salary.
Another interesting finding from Hired’s survey is that 60 percent of respondents expect the Trump administration to have a negative impact on the tech industry, and 40 percent have considered relocating to another country since last year’s election:
Of those individuals, nearly one third cite Canada as their top choice (32%), followed by Germany (12%), Asia (10%) and Australia (10%). Furthermore, it appears as though Brexit has had a negative impact on tech workers’ decision to relocate to the UK. While 6% of respondents listed the UK as their top choice if they were to relocate, another 43% of respondents said that Brexit had made the UK a less desirable place to live.
That finding in particular is surely welcome news to Canada, which has been aggressively courting US talent to join its growing tech hubs in Toronto and Vancouver.
“The report arrives in the middle of a raging debate,” Quartz’s Michael J. Coren adds, over whether there is really a shortage of workers with STEM skills in the US:
Industry groups such as the Partnership for a New American Economy, representing companies such as Disney, promote this position. Critics accuse these US multi-national corporations of hyping up the shortage to justify visa programs for cheap, offshore temporary workers and students. A more nuanced answer, issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in a 2016 labor market analysis, is that it depends.
A chronic shortage has persisted in some fields such as petroleum engineering, software development, and technical government fields (where citizenship is required). Yet there are plenty of physicists, biomedical engineers, and chemical engineers available in their respective fields. But indiscriminately cutting off the flow of talent to the US, rather than selectively reforming the system, could backfire by depressing economic growth and starving companies of talent to compete globally. It may even send the next Google somewhere else.