Employers seek immigrants amid shortage of high-skilled workers

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Muthumalla Dhandapani, an Indian immigrant with an H1-B visa and a Comcast employee in Sunnyvale, protests President Trump’s immigration orders in 2017.

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The U.S. does not have enough high-skilled workers to meet demand for computer-related jobs, and employers are seeking immigrant talent to help fill that gap, according to a new report released Thursday.

For every unemployed computer or math worker in the country in 2020, there were more than seven job postings for computer-related occupations, bipartisan immigration research group New American Economy found.

“More nuanced and responsive policy around employment-based immigration could be one way to help the U.S. more quickly and more robustly bounce back from the Covid-19 [pandemic] and future economic disruptions and crises,” the report said.

The study comes as record job openings in the U.S. coincide with persistent unemployment, suggesting a mismatch in labor demand and supply. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week launched a campaign calling for an increase in employment-based immigration to address the worker shortage.

NAE, which was founded by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, analyzed data from Labor Certification Applications for foreign-born skilled workers, unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and job postings data from the website Burning Glass Technologies.

Employers in the U.S. posted 1.36 million job openings for computer-related roles in 2020, according to NAE’s analysis. Yet there were only 177,000 unemployed workers in computer and math occupations last year, NAE found, using Labor Department data.

“Even something as powerful and traumatic and unprecedented as Covid did not put a dent in the country’s demand and shortage of high-skilled STEM talent,” said Dick Burke, president and CEO of Envoy Global, an immigration services firm that co-authored the study.

Employers continued to seek high-skilled immigrant workers to fill labor shortages during the pandemic. There were 371,641 foreign labor requests for computer-related jobs filed in 2020, NAE reported.

The U.S. disproportionately relies on foreign-born talent in computer-related jobs. Immigrants made up 25% of the computer workforce in 2019, according to NAE’s analysis of Census data, compared with 17.4% of the broader labor force, according to the Labor Department.

“The evidence in this report is really adding more support to the idea that there are still needs from employers in the United States for computer-related workers that are not being addressed by current immigration policy in the United States,” said Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research at NAE.

Seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs for immigrant workers, as measured by Labor Certification Applications requests, were computer-related, NAE reported.

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A 2020 study of government data by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy found that a higher share of holders of H-1B visas — the authorization for high-skilled immigrant workers — in a given occupation reduced the unemployment rate and boosted the earnings growth rate for U.S.-born workers.

“We have not revamped our legal immigration categories, including business immigration, since 1990. Some of those categories are out of alignment with our needs in the United States today,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School, who was not involved with the NAE study.

“The pandemic has exacerbated those inconsistencies because people who are desperately needed to restart various businesses have been unable to enter the United States,” Yale-Loehr said.

Google led a court filing in May supporting H-4 work authorizations for spouses of H1-B visa holders. The amicus brief’s signatories also included Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The companies said that H-4 workers are essential to their operations, noting that two-thirds of employed H-4 visa-holders work a science, technology and mathematics job.

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