The Perils of Thinking Inside the Visa Box

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on companies which are "getting creative" to deal with U.S. visa bottlenecks.  I eagerly started reading to see what creative juices were flowing in the pretty uninspired world of immigration compliance.  I was disappointed to see that, in reality, it was nothing more than the "same old, same old":

  1. "parking" employees in overseas jurisdiction at great expense while their skills are desperately needed by the U.S. enterprise.
  2. encouraging critical technical professionals to pursue unneeded advanced degrees to "buy time" in F-1 student status till H-1B visa numbers become available.
  3. Rescinding job offers (and leaving critical positions unfilled) until visas became unavailable.

As the WSJ concludes, all of these "creative" solutions face a "big flaw": they assume that next year the H-1B shortage will be resolved.

It won’t be.  With a lame duck president and the final shot at meaningful immigration reform squandered over bipartisan bickering, Corporate America seems to be in a serious skilled-worker-shortage quagmire for the next couple of years.  In fact, the only player with the energy and initiative to demand a response from Washington — Microsoft, which quickly snuffed former Sen. Alan Simpson’s ill-conceived elimination of the H-1B category a few years back — has smelled the coffee…and headed north.

Pragmatically aware of the fact that current U.S. employment visa policy is decimating the human resources so desperately needed in the technology sector, Microsoft is going from Redmond to Richmond, British Columbia, some 133 miles away in a country far more savvy about its business migration policy.  The net result: entire U.S. divisions are forced to move abroad, eliminating countless U.S. positions, just to address the high tech worker shortage.

Instead of "parking" employees — a leading immigration law firm quoted in the article cites a client spending $30,000 per employee to do just this — real creativity is the solution to this fine mess:

1- Establishing short and long term intracompany (L-1A and L-1B) visa strategies to train and polish qualified specialty and managerial employees offshore to provide a steady, non-quota pool of U.S. nonimmigrant workers deployed on an as-needed basis and guided by market conditions, not by governmental bureaucracy.

2- Strategic alliances, mergers, and acquisitions which establish de facto qualifying intracompany relationships facilitating blanket L visas.

3- Intelligent process restructuring which divides core technical needs from all other functions for which there are NOT U.S. worker shortages to create offshore/onshore delivery platforms maximizing workforce skills.

Creative solutions exist to the current tech worker visa crunch, but spending big corporate dollars on international furlows is hardly creative, and certainly NOT the stuff of which shareholder dreams are made.