Are You Ready for an H-1B Visa Reform?

What the Staffing Industry Can Do Now to Help Prepare

By Steve Gage, CEO & Co-founder, iLabor


After President Trump signed an executive order earlier this year to commission the Department of Homeland Security to review the way H-1B visas are awarded, there is still much to be determined on what this means for the industry. Although this directive does not change the immediate day-to-day working of the system, it has opened a formal review of the program—raising quite a bit of questions for many organizations that use the program for hiring foreign workers in the United States.


There’s no doubt that H-1B visas are in high demand—85,000 visas are available including 65,000 for applicants with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 for those with master’s or more advanced degrees. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, employers seeking visas for 2018 submitted 199,000 applications this year—showcasing that there are more applicants than visas available.


The positions that are filled by the H-1B program that would be most affected are IT positions. According to a Goldman Sachs report, “While H-1B visa holders comprise only 0.6-0.7 percent of total U.S. jobs, they estimate that the visas are comprised of about 12-13 percent of tech-related jobs.”


The H-1B visa program, first introduced in 1990, allows foreign workers to fill skill gaps in the American workforce. Right now, it is managed by a lottery system, which means that the more organizations apply, the better chances they have of securing a higher number of visas. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is expected to take a more targeted approach to examining organizations with a high ratio of H-1B workers and staffing firms that heavily use the program to help fill positions in the U.S.


After 30 years, taking a fresh look at this would certainly be beneficial so that the program can equally support both the workforce and businesses to ensure that the program is doing what it is supposed to—which is to help fill jobs and capture the right talent, protect the workforce and ensure compliance.  Early indicators are positive for the staffing industry and processes will need to shift to automate where it is possible to improve productivity, eliminate redundancy and non-core tasks, as well leverage and bring in talent strategically to truly address business needs.


Regardless of what reform will bring, creating a mix of domestic and foreign talent to effectively meet market demands will be critical—in particular for the tech industry. That includes effectively managing this talent pool—whether it’s from the H-1B program or the U.S. workforce. When jobs in the U.S. cannot be filled, organizations will still need to fill this gap.


Hiring managers will continue to hire the best available candidate, regardless of their visa/citizenship status. Staffing firms with strong recruiting engines that can quickly provide hiring managers with quality options will continue to make placements and grow their business.


It’s important for staffing firms to start preparing a multi-pronged strategy that will help them well into the future and ensure that they have the right mix of talent, can manage through any H-1B reform and continue to ensure that hiring managers have the right talent to choose from.


First, build a strong supplier network. It’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket. Start building your network of suppliers/vendors and adjust talent channels and process as needed to help ensure a good mix of talent—especially if you work with suppliers that have a high ratio of the H-1B workforce. Determine if there are other supply chains you should add to the mix and leverage more resources today.


Then, automate your supplier network. With supply chain growth, and given the thousands of individuals in this workforce, it has become increasingly important to automate this process and focus on speed to market in fulfilling talent needs. Many organizations have fragmented secondary supplier programs, have multiple people engaged in the process, and have no tool to measure performance or their overall H-1B visa programs. Automation will help streamline processes, determine how you are sourcing talent and candidates, and help you with future planning to fill talent gaps.


Finally, it’s imperative to streamline reporting to ensure compliance. Through an H-1B visa reform, being able to report and ensure compliance will become critical. Many times, managing where talent is coming from can be a fragmented process and reporting can be cumbersome and manually intensive. Implementing real-time performance metrics to better streamline this process and provide immediate reporting capabilities will be essential and will help businesses stay current and allow them to make improvements to their strategies.


It’s too early to tell what the impact of a possible reform will mean for the H-1B program, but staffing organizations do need a workable program for having the right mix of talent. Positions are still available that cannot be filled domestically and the industry will continue to evolve and require highly-qualified talent. Seek to understand what this potential reform may mean for you and adjust now to ensure you have strategies in place to help you manage what’s coming next.