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Potential H1-B Visa Program Changes: How to Prepare IT Now

Speculation has been swirling ever since since the US president hung new curtains in the White House that his administration and US Congress will make changes to the H1-B visa program.

The program currently allows an estimated 900,000 highly-skilled, foreign workers to work in the US; changes may include:

  • Significantly increasing the salary requirement for workers on H1-B visas.
  • Changing how H-1B are allocated to employers, moving away from a lottery system.
  • Revising rules related to work visas for the spouses of H1-B visa holders.
  • Limiting companies that already employ a large number of H-1B employees from hiring additional H-1B workers.
  • Requiring evidence that that H-1B visa holders are not being hired to replace U.S. workers.

An estimated 13% of technology jobs in America are filled by H-1B visa holders. While corporate IT teams will certainly feel the wind of change blowing through their own staffing set-up, they will also see big differences when working with sourcing partners who employ lots of staff on H-1B visas.

What to Do Now, and in the Future

If/when changes are released, be prepared to do the following:

1. Communicate your concern and awareness to staff: Visa holders on your teams may have anxiety about these changes, including those on other types of visa (or who have spouses on other types of visas). Make it clear you are taking steps to get answers to their questions.

Employees outside the United States may have had rotation or US relocation plans in mind as part of their career trajectories. IT leaders should reassure staff that they will continue to invest and support their teams, irrespective of immigration policy changes.

2. Identify near-term projects that will be affected: IT leaders should work closely with HR to develop a full picture of how many employees and which projects will be affected by changes to the H-1B visa program.

HR leaders can provide a headcount of IT employees who are currently working directly on H-1B visas or H-1B spouse exemptions and what the impact of the proposed changes will look like across IT.

Don’t Stop There

For the longer term, IT leaders will need to:

1. Assess risks in your sourcing approach for talent: While changes to H-1B policy will affect a number of companies, the companies most affected will be those providing outsourcing and offshoring services to the US. At a minimum, companies dependent on these services for IT talent should evaluate how changes may disrupt providers’ support.

In addition, if outsourcing partners seek to hire more US workers, competition for tech talent in the US will intensify. 

2. Think through the roles of automation and externalization: A number of IT outsourcing partners have stated that their adoption of cloud services and automation has already reduced their reliance on the H-1B visa program.

Corporate IT leaders would be wise to include these technical solutions as they think through these changes.

3. Re-assess what work can be performed offshore – and where you should reinvest in collaboration tools: Restrictions on H-1B visas (and others) may mean that Corporate IT will need to reevaluate which tasks can be effectively performed offshore.The IT team at one large financial services firm in CEB’s network of IT professionals took a two-step approach to this process:

  • First, they assessed the level of competency required in technical, process, business, and people skills for roles and “job families.”
  • Second, they assessed offshoring feasibility for these roles based on (a) their strategic impact on business objectives, and (b) the frequency of collaboration required with onshore IT groups. Offshoring becomes more feasible when the strategic impact of a role is more limited, and when the required degree of collaboration is less frequent.

That said, this “suitability analysis” can be shifted by investment in the tools that permit teams to collaborate more effectively: frequent, or even constant, collaboration may warrant additional investment.

4. Re-consider the feasibility of “near-shore” and other talent pools close to the US: Countries operating in the North American time zone – particularly Canada – are easing immigration restrictions on skilled tech talent, a trend that may or may not be followed by other countries close to the US.Employers may also need to expand their search to other US regions and increase outreach to under-represented groups.

Contributed by CEB, a best practice insight and technology company.

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