The US Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that it would issue an additional 15,000 H-2B visas this summer for employers to hire non-farm seasonal workers from abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported. The guest worker visa program is limited by Congress to 66,000 of the six-month visas each year, divided evenly between the summer and winter seasons. This cap has not been raised since the 1990s, but the spending bill passed by Congress in March grants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the discretion to issue about twice that number depending on labor market needs.
DHS also issued an additional 15,000 visas last year, but coming in July, that decision was criticized as coming too late in the season to mitigate the shortages of seasonal labor that employers in sectors like hospitality, tourism, and landscaping had complained of. The Trump administration’s anti-immigration posture and its reluctance to open up the US to more foreign workers of any kind have had an impact on these seasonal industries’ ability to fill jobs, forcing them to raise wages, scramble to find American workers, or cut back on business in response. (Critics of the H-2B program, on both the left and the right, say these employers should be paying higher wages and working harder to market these jobs to US citizens.)
This summer, the labor market in the US is as tight as it was last year, if not more so, and seasonal employers are facing a similar challenge. Candidates for seasonal positions are finding themselves with more bargaining power than they used to have, being able to demand greater flexibility and control over their schedules. Employers have reported, meanwhile, that their applications for H-2B visas are being rejected at higher rates than usual. Demand for the visas this year so greatly exceeded the cap, the department had to award them through a lottery system, making the process more unpredictable for business owners who are accustomed to using these visas regularly.
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With less than a year to go before the March 2019 deadline for finalizing a deal for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, three separate reports have come out in the past week highlighting continued anxiety among employers in key sectors about their ability to meet their labor needs in a post-Brexit environment.
First, Tech Nation 2018, the UK’s annual government report on the country’s tech sector, identified access to talent, cost of living, and Brexit as the main challenges cited by the tech community in the country’s key tech hubs of London and Cambridge. Mike Butcher at TechCrunch criticizes what he sees as the government’s attempt to downplay the elephant in the room, arguing that the report “has been heavily spun to de-emphasise the effects of Brexit on the UK tech industry”—which he says will be severe when considering the impact Brexit will have on British tech companies’ other major concerns:
In the rest of the country, access to talent was cited as the most common challenge – affecting 83% of the UK’s regional tech clusters. Access a funding was a top 3 challenge in 49% of clusters and bad transport links were also cited. Funding is clearly also Brexit-related, given that funding from the European Investment Fund has collapsed since the Brexit vote. The European Investment Bank has slashed deals with UK VCs and private equity groups by more than two-thirds, with no equivalent funding from the UK government in sight. …
However, you probably won’t get that impression from the way the report is being pitched to the media … Instead, the report is filled with heady statistics about the UK’s booming tech industry. The report also makes absolutely no mention of the effect of the UK leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market.
Another report, released on Monday by TheCityUK, an organization that promotes the UK as a global financial center, warns that losing access to European talent will have a harsh impact on the finance industry. That report, prepared in partnership with EY, urges the government to reform immigration policies to allow the sector to maintain access to a pan-European talent pool, arguing that hiring European talent after Brexit through the existing mechanisms for non-European immigrants will increase the City’s costs for hiring international staff by 300 percent. “Simply applying the current immigration system for non-European citizens to European citizens after Brexit will not work,” TheCityUK’s Chief Executive Miles Celic said in a statement carried by Reuters. In response to uncertainty over the future of UK immigration law, banks have already begun preparing to shift staff from London to other European financial centers like Frankfurt to handle their continental business.
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More H-1B visas are being granted to US tech companies, whereas India-based outsourcing firms are receiving fewer of them, according to an analysis of government data on 2017 H-1B allocations from the National Foundation for American Policy. This trend, the NFAP argues in its policy brief, “reflect[s] the strong demand for high-skilled talent” in the US and “would appear to undermine the argument that the federal government should impose new restrictions on H-1B visas.”
The Trump administration has indeed been determined to restrict the use of these visas, which are awarded to highly skilled foreign workers to fill gaps in the US labor market, as part of President Donald Trump’s overall anti-immigration posture. While only an act of Congress can fundamentally restructure of the program and Trump’s desired rule changes have not yet been enacted, the administration has subtly undermined it by suspending premium processing two years in a row, tightening approval standards, and proposing to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders, the spouses of H-1B workers (a plan the administration reaffirmed this week).
It is difficult to say with certainty, however, whether the shift observed in the NFAP’s research is a rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown or a consequence of it. It may reflect the changing strategies of major Indian outsourcing companies since Trump’s election, which portended a change in H-1B policy and made it riskier for these firms to rely on the visas. Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services and outsourcing company and one of the leading users H-1Bs, announced plans last year to hire 10,000 US citizen employees and open new innovation hubs throughout the US. Infosys said at the time that this decision predated the Trump administration, but it still serves to guard against a scenario in which the supply of H-1B visas was curtailed.
Some observers see the gravitation of H-1Bs away from outsourcing companies as a response to the Trump administration’s policies, or even a sign that these policies are working. Axios’s Stef Kight captured both sides of the debate in her reporting:
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The application period for H-1B temporary skilled worker visas came and went last week, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services reaching its petition cap this year within five days of the application period opening on April 2, CNet reported on Friday. In a process that has become commonplace in recent years, demand for the 85,000 highly-coveted visas issued each year quickly surpassed the number available, prompting USCIS to stop accepting applications. The visas will be awarded by lottery and the recipients will be eligible to come to the US and start working in October.
Nobody is particularly in favor of the H-1B lottery system. Advocates of a more liberal immigration policy consider the annual limit arbitrary and far too low, as in this statement reported by CNet:
“That’s it for the entire year for our nation’s ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs,” Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a US lobby in favor of immigration reform, said in a statement. “In addition to forcing us to miss out on the creation of American jobs, these arbitrary limits will stifle medical innovation and wage growth, and will hurt our economy.”
At the other end of the spectrum, however, are critics who say the US issues too many of these visas and is insufficiently selective in how it awards them, such as President Donald Trump, who rode into Washington last year vowing to reform the H-1B system as part of a broader effort to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the US. In his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued a year ago, Trump called for changes to the program to crack down on what he described as fraud and abuse, and advocated awarding the visas based on merit rather than by a random lottery.
Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports, this round of H-1B applications visas is being distributed without the major changes Trump has requested.
Mercer’s latest Workforce Monitor report points to what the consultancy calls an “unprecedented labor shortage” in the UK in the coming years as declining immigration reveals the extent to which an aging population is shrinking the country’s domestic workforce, challenging employers to find new avenues for growth in a limited talent market. Neil Franklin parses their research at Workplace Insight:
Mercer anticipates the UK workforce will increase by just 820,000, or 2.4 percent, by 2025, a significant reduction in recent trends that have seen 9 percent workforce growth in the 10 years to 2015. For the first time in half a century, the overall population will be increasing at a faster rate than the workforce, creating long term structural challenges for the economy. …
Mercer also expects there to be a significant shift in age demographics across the workforce. Projections suggest that over the next eight years there will be 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30 and 1 million more over 50 in the UK as a result of falling net migration and ageing baby-boomers. This is likely to have a particular impact on London, whose economy is heavily dependent on young and migrant labour. Mercer forecasts that London’s resident under 30s worker population will fall by 25%, whilst over 50s will increase by 25%.
Mercer’s projections are the latest in a series of dire warnings about the likelihood of labor shortages after the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU next year. A report from the CIPD last year found that the country likely cannot meet its labor needs without access to foreign talent, which Brexit is expected to sharply curtail. Uncertainty over future immigration policies have left British employers worried about how they will meet their future talent needs in the absence of spare capacity and a tight domestic labor market.
In what looks like the Trump administration’s latest effort to tighten the US border by subjecting entrants to greater scrutiny, the State Department announced in the Federal Register on Friday that it was proposing to require that people seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas provide consular officials with additional information, including their social media accounts from the past five years, Ana Campoy reports at Quartz:
“This is an indirect way that the Trump administration is trying to limit immigration to the US that does not require for them to go to Congress,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, of the proposed rules.
The US had already been requesting social-media information from people suspected to represent a national security threat. That policy targeted a sliver of travelers to the US—about 65,000. The new measures would cover nearly 15 million people. Along with the handles, the State Department is also asking for a five-year history of email addresses, telephone numbers, and international trips.
The proposals must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget after a 60-day public comment period, so these new requirements will not come into effect until this summer at the earliest, but if they do, Campoy surmises, it may make some people think twice about traveling to the US. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement condemning the proposals as “ineffective and deeply problematic”:
Personnel Today’s Jo Faragher flags some new data from Monster.co.uk showing that the total number of searches for jobs in the UK out of other EU countries has declined 11 percent since the June 2016 referendum in which UK citizens voted to exit the union:
[W]orkers of Romanian nationality are the least keen to come to Britain to work, with Romanian search traffic for UK jobs dropping by 52%. This was closely followed by Portuguese searches, which dropped by 42%, and Polish by 35%. Searches from UK jobseekers continue to make up 80% of traffic to the job site.
At the same time, however, job searches by Swedish candidates went up by a fifth, and Finnish jobseekers by 18%. Monster also reported a rise in searches from some countries outside the EU – including the US and the Philippines.
Romania and Portugal are believed to be among the most common nationalities of EU citizens living in the UK, along with Poland (the largest by far), Ireland, and Italy, according to data from the Office of National Statistics. While net migration from the EU to the UK remained positive last year, the net figure of 90,000 in the year to September 2017 was the lowest since 2012.