CIOs: Foreign Nationals Are the Answer to Your Labor Shortage

By Marc J. Schiller

Recruiting (and retaining) high-quality IT staff has always been a challenge for CIOs. But it’s about to become an absolute nightmare.

Over the past 12 months numerous private and public institutions, including the U.S. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, have published reports highlighting the growing gap between the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs that need to be filled in the U.S. and the diminishing number of qualified STEM graduates.

And don’t expect the situation to get better any time soon. Despite the efforts of a few innovative educators to build interest in the sciences, the vast majority of US educational institutions continue to see a decrease in STEM degrees. The situation has become so bad that in some cities high-tech companies are partnering with local high schools to build a competent work force.

That approach may work for a few mighty high-tech firms but what about the rest of the IT world? How are the rest of us supposed to recruit the right talent to succeed in the coming years?

Well, it turns out that the answer is literally right under our noses. I’m referring of course to the large number of well educated and highly motivated foreign nationals with STEM degrees that are eager to work and live in the U.S.—many of whom are graduates of U.S. institutions and  currently reside in the U.S.

The problem it seems is that the combination of misinformation, poor experiences with some overseas contractors and the general anti-immigration bias of our political leadership has made the idea of specifically targeting foreign nationals a non-starter. But sorting out fact from fiction and navigating this situation in order to prosper is possible … at least for a little while until others catch on.  

Strategy #1: Target foreign students studying at U.S. colleges and universities.

This is truly a no-brainer. Most employers don’t know this but any international student studying in the U.S. can obtain a one-year Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment authorization document to work in a related field. STEM graduates (because of the shortage) are entitled to 29 months. Here’s the best part: You, the employer, don’t have to do a thing.  No forms, no paperwork.

What a gift. You get nearly two and half years to evaluate, grow and develop a U.S.-educated resource. That gives you plenty of time to decide whether you want to sponsor them for an H-1B visa or possibly even Lawful Permanent Resident (popularly known as a “Green Card”). And since this is the goal of many foreigners who study in the U.S., imagine the motivation they bring to work every day.

Strategy #2 – Seek out foreign nationals already in the U.S.

Of course recent graduates won’t always be the answer to your staffing needs. What then? This is when you will need to reach for the H-1B visa category.  The problem: There is a cap on the number of these visas issued every year (currently about 65,000). The cap for 2012 has already been reached.

So, while there may be many fine candidates from around the world that can qualify for this category of visa, your best bet is to seek out foreign nationals who are already in the U.S. That’s because once they have been approved for one H-1B visa they do not get counted again for purposes of the cap when transferring to a new employer.

So don’t be drawn in by the fabulous resumes being shown to you by overseas employment agencies. They may indeed have wonderful candidates but the likelihood of getting them an H-1B visa is far less than for a similar candidate that is already here.

Strategy #3 – Go after the very best and brightest in their home countries.

If you’re a company that has meaningful work for real rocket scientists (not regular old Computer Science guys like me), then you have another option. It’s called the EB-1 visa and it’s designed for individuals with exceptional skills or talent. No jokes here. You really have to be world-class to qualify for this visa.

This visa has a stringent set of criteria and has a higher threshold than other visa categories and should only be considered for genuinely world-class candidates.

This ain’t politics, It’s business.

Let the politicians rage on about how the fence with Mexico and implications of immigration on the future of America. As an IT leader you know the truth—that we (that’s you, me and the American economy overall) need the best and the brightest from around the world to succeed in the hyper-competitive tech field.

Don’t be shy going after the accomplished and competent foreign nationals. You need them for your operational success and your company’s bottom line.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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