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Among many things, the pandemic taught us that working from home was not only feasible but actually preferred. Millions of employees now insist on positions that allow remote work, whether it’s hybrid or otherwise. In part, this has contributed to the Great Resignation with workers leaving their positions for greener pastures. But these trends have an even greater potential effect on tech firms as demand far outweighs supply for domestic talent. Because of existing U.S. immigration policies, the nation is missing out on tech migration patterns. Specifically, tech worker migration now favors other countries who could capitalize on these shifts.

(The ability to work remotely has become essential–read more in this Bold deep-dive.)

At the root of the problem is a lack of clarity and insight regarding immigration issues. Political gridlock has caused stagnation in policy changes that might promote more favorable tech migration patterns. As a result, businesses must determine how best to resolve their talent gaps in industries that are globally competitive. Thus far, some policymakers suggest that companies invest more into talent development and training. But the path of least resistance encourages a different approach that aligns with remote work trends. Unless immigration policies are reconsidered, it might just be that others will be the tech leaders of tomorrow.

“Ultimately, this [failure to change immigration policies] could hurt the U.S. economy. There’s no rule that Silicon Valley is always going to have the tech crown.” – U.S. House Representative Zoe Lofgren, Chairwoman of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee

Basic Supply and Demand Pressures

From one perspective, a deficiency of domestic tech workers has been evolving for some time. While the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. is at historic lows currently, it is even more so for technology positions. Specifically, tech unemployment rates are 1.3%, which highlights the challenges tech firms have in finding talent. Within the U.S., remote work trends have resulted in tech worker migration. For companies willing to embrace remote work, they have been able to fill vacant skilled positions. But for others, tech migration patterns have added insult to injury. This is why some tech firms have pursued new markets like Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, and Tampa. Hoping to tap into new local talent, some are expanding outside of Silicon Valley in their search.

Unfortunately, developing new domestic markets for talent won’t suffice in filling voids in tech talent. While places like Nashville have seen an 8% increase in tech jobs, the state doesn’t have the numbers to keep pace with such growth. Likewise, since 2020, there has been a 420% increase in remote tech jobs. This means that companies must either outsource foreign talent or recruit skilled immigrants into the country. While the former is feasible, the latter is not due to current U.S. immigration policies. That’s why current tech worker migration has been toward other countries instead of the U.S. These are the tech migration patterns that have many tech businesses concerned.

“There’s still a desire for the employer to have their employees in the U.S., but if that’s not possible, they will hire talent and place them where they are able to work productively.” – Stuart Anderson, Executive Director, National Foundation for American Policy

Canada Seizing an Opportunity

U.S. immigration policies related to tech worker migration places a cap on the annual number of H1-B visas. Only 65,000 skilled workers are allowed, which combined with the 20,000 graduating from American universities, is insufficient. Remarkably, these caps have not changed since 2005, and per-country quota limits also exist. Thus, while tech jobs and talent demand have increased, tech migration patterns have been stymied. This isn’t the case in other countries that see the opportunity available. Canada, in particular, is reaping the benefits of the U.S.’s failure to adapt.

a worker working remotely
The explosion of remote work means tech worker migration to countries more favorable to their status. Can the US keep up?

Without question, immigration into Canada is much simpler and easier. They have no limits on the number of technology talent entering the country. This is why Canada has seen a tremendous increase in tech worker migration as of late. Likewise, these tech migration patterns have spawned new businesses. Mobsquad, a Canadian company that helps find tech talent for U.S. firms, relocates remote workers to Canada. MobSquad has enjoyed a four-fold increase in business in the last 2 years and now serves 50 companies. This is also why many tech firms are setting up shop in Toronto, the latest new technology hub.

“There was some hesitation before the pandemic to having workers spread across many offices and cities. Now they’ve proven to themselves that remote work isn’t a problem.” – Arif Khimani, President and COO, Mobsquad

Immigration Reform Essential

Given that the U.S. is already losing tech jobs to places like Canada, it would seem obvious that immigration reforms are needed. But policymakers have failed to appreciate the potential impacts these current tech worker migration effects have. Many want to protect the American worker, assuming that U.S. tech firms will either find or train the talent they need domestically. But this is extremely short-sighted. Companies in the U.S. are progressively adapting to remote work structures and hiring remote IT workers. As a result, despite current immigration policies, American workers are losing jobs to skilled tech talent in India, China and other places. This is why new policies are needed to change existing tech migration patterns.

At present, the U.S. firms continue to lead the world in technology and innovation. But in order to stay on top, these companies must attract and retain the best talent. Having such skilled workers in the U.S. would be ideal, but current labor supply cannot support this. Therefore, changes are needed to allow a tech worker migration into the country. Expanding the number of H1-B visas and relaxing national quotas would be a step in the right direction. If such changes don’t occur, then U.S. tech business will be forced to hire talent remotely from other countries. And this is not the type of tech migration patterns that would benefit the U.S. in the long run.

 

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