Beyond the Domestic Hiring Pool

As the US reverses restrictions on immigration, experts say firms may find more tech talent, which could reshape their business.

The game is on for new foreign talent—especially in the field of skilled tech.

As the new presidential administration focuses on rolling back immigration restrictions, experts say firms should rethink both their tech talent and their tech operations. Much of the proposed changes require congressional approval, but any loosening would impact the competition for skilled tech workers that affect a host of industries.  “The front of every company is now a tech company,” says Esther Colwill, Korn Ferry’s president of global technology industries.

If approved, the US Citizenship Act of 2021 would eliminate per-country visa caps for green cards, codify work authorization for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, and provide incentives for firms to give H-1B workers higher wages. The plan would also create a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. President Biden has also put a 60-day freeze on all regulations that haven’t yet taken effect, including two aimed at limiting the types of qualifying jobs and the duration of H-1B visas.

Along with affecting farmwork and some other fields, the regulations could heavily influence roles at Silicon Valley firms, which have long relied on foreign-born workers who specialize in science, tech, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Indeed, at least 57% of STEM workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were born outside the United States, according to a report by the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project. But talent experts say virtually any industry that relies on science or technology will need to keep an eye on the US immigration policy changes. This includes manufacturing and healthcare, says Melissa Swift, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global leader for workforce transformation. “The manufacturing landscape has shifted over the last decade or two, and is getting more technological,” she says. Healthcare would also benefit from bringing in foreign talent, particularly as it has struggled to keep up with demand during COVID-19.

“It’s a great moment to rethink what is our work, what are the jobs we now need people to do, and what that might look like in terms of people if we didn’t narrowly limit ourselves to a domestic talent pool,” Swift says.

At the same time, the potential changes come at a time when the pandemic has drastically hurt US employment. According to the most recent figures, jobless claims in the US are at a historically high level of some 900,000. Experts say that increases pressure for firms to hire domestically before considering international talent. What’s more, with concerns over race relations still strong, many firms are seeking to focus on improving diversity within the US before hiring overseas.

According to Dan Kaplan, a senior partner in Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Officers practice, tech companies could help create more skilled talent in the United States with improved training for so-called Dreamers, undocumented residents brought to the US as children. For her part, Colwill says Silicon Valley firms could also bring in more diverse talent by thinking more broadly and creatively, hiring people not only from purely tech firms but those who have performed tech-related jobs in other industries. “To some extent, business is business, and tech can learn a lot from more mature industries,” Colwill says.