Trump Immigration Policies Will Create Tech Opportunities

Joe Vacca |12.21.16

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While President-elect Donald Trump’s position on immigration remains unclear, there’s a lot of noise in Washington and abroad about restricting access to H1B visas (they allow U.S. companies to employ graduate-level workers from outside of the U.S.). Restricting these visas could create challenges for businesses like Apple who rely heavily on non-U.S. technology talent to develop new products such as the newest iPhone. While most Apple products are manufactured outside the U.S., the heavy lifting of design and development is done in California.

Apple ranks 22 of the top 100 H1B visa sponsors, requesting 1,514 visas, a slight increase over 2015*. And they are in good company. Other major U.S. technology-dependent companies in the top 25 include IBM (#3), Microsoft (#9), Google (#12) and Amazon (#16), requesting – in total – nearly 30,000 requests for H-1B visas this year. In total, there were 236,000 applications for 85,000 visas.

More than 65% of all approved H1B petitions were for computer-related jobs, and 96% of all approved petitions were for people with bachelor degrees or higher**. The mantra of Silicon Valley has always been hire the “best and brightest” from around the globe. Some feel that President-Elect Trump’s policies may threaten this worldview.

Should Trump enact policy changes to the H1B visa program as outlined in a YouTube announcement, U.S. companies could be left scrambling to fill a significant void in the tech world. These jobs won’t easily be replaced by U.S. workers given the current lack of technology talent (the skills gap). Colleges and universities are not turning out computer science and IT graduates at a rate to fill the current deficit and many don’t have the enterprise-level skills necessary to keep the technology engines running.

What does this mean for employers reliant on securing those visas? In a word: opportunity. While the short-term could prove challenging, the longer-term result should lead to a plethora of jobs to feed the IT talent funnel with U.S. citizens.

Companies will need to focus on three key areas:
1. Creating New Talent – New solutions will need to be adopted in order to develop and deploy IT talent in a short timeframe by creating a dependable, consistent stream of entry-level software engineers, companies can address their shortage of developers while not jeopardizing innovation or significantly impacting cost and timelines.

2. Workplace Automation – As automation technology advances, companies will soon be looking to automate more job functions. While this doesn’t necessarily eliminate jobs, it does redefine them. In all likelihood, occupations won’t be automated in their entirety, but rather, certain aspects and activities are more likely to be automated. While this is an option for some, the development curve is steep.

3. Reskilling Current Employees – It seems like technology advances at the speed of light. But the skills needed to effectively adapt to the new technologies doesn’t automatically evolve within a company’s existing workforce. Developers’ skills and training need to advance along with the adoption of next-gen technologies. Companies in Silicon Valley and beyond need to invest in reskilling their existing talent pools as they invest in new technologies.

Many view this as an opportunity for business and education to partner on how to create a new generation of technologists. “Making America Great Again” will require the Trump administration, academic and business leaders to strategize on how to fill the talent funnel or face the backlash of delaying technology advances consumers have come to expect. So, should you be worried that you won’t get your next iPhone on time? Maybe, maybe not, but we can all agree broad changes to our immigration policies will have impacts on our day-to-day lives in many ways we may not anticipate.

*My Visa Jobs 2016 H1B Visa Reports. http://www.myvisajobs.com/Reports/2016-H1B-Visa-Sponsor.aspx
**HomeLand Security. 2014 Report to Congress. Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occopation Workers https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Reports%20and%20Studies/H-1B/h-1B-characteristics-report-14.pdf

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