By Max Mihelich
Aug. 2, 2013
U.S. employers want a bunch of highly skilled workers, and they want them now.
If it passes both houses of Congress, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, which was passed by the Senate on June 27 and is being debated in the House of Representatives, will help employers acquire some of those skilled employees they’re struggling to find in the United States.
Experts contend the bill has little chance of House approval. If the measure, commonly known as immigration reform, is shot down, there will be no changes to the amount of H-1B visas available per year. Should the proposed legislation be approved, however, regulations governing H-1B visas will be tweaked so that a greater number of highly talented individuals will be able to obtain temporary work visas.
This temporary visa provision hopes to address the widening skills gap between high-tech jobs and U.S. workers. Any position in a field related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, is considered a high-tech job.
“One of the solutions to the skills gap, one small piece of the puzzle, is immigration reform,” says Lynn Shotwell, executive director at the American Council for International Personnel.
According to a survey published by STEM information website STEMconnector, 600,000 STEM-related manufacturing jobs were vacant in 2012. It’s estimated there will be 15 million total STEM-related jobs by 2018.
“The bill is designed to prioritize STEM workers,” says Jorge Lopez, co-chair of the global mobility and immigration practice at law firm Littler Mendelson in Miami.
In other words, the bill would provide more opportunities for individuals with an educational background in a STEM field to work in the United States. And overall, the bill would create more openings for other highly talented individuals to live and work in the country.
According to the Senate’s 17-page summary of the reform bill, “We will raise the base cap of [H-1B visas from] 65,000 to 110,000 (we amend the current 20,000 exemption for U.S. advanced degree holders to be a 25,000 exemption for advanced degree graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from U.S. schools). In future years, the cap can go as high as 180,000.”
While there will be more opportunities for foreigners looking to acquire H-1B visas, the Senate developed a provision intended to prevent employers from relying on foreign talent.
“There are going to be more H visas for employers to hire individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher, but employers are going to have to pay more fines to hire them,” says Ronald Shapiro, partner at The Shapiro Law Group in Deerfield, Illinois.
The immigration reform bill would require employers with 50 or more employees whose workforce is composed of between 30 and 50 percent temporary visa workers to pay $5,000 per visa holder. Likewise, employers with 50 to 4,999 employees whose workforce is made up of between 50 and 75 percent temporary visa workers would have to pay $10,000 per visa holder, according to the bill.
However, immigration reform seems unlikely to pass this summer.
And if it doesn’t at all, Shotwell cautions that companies might abandon plans to expand their business in the United States.
“If it doesn’t happen, I think we’ll see more and more employers deciding it’s not worth hiring in the United States; that they’ll be relocating outside the United States; that they’ll be expanding their business capabilities abroad,” Shotwell says. “If nothing happens, ultimately, we’re putting our nation at a competitive disadvantage by not being able to get the talent that we need.”
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