How can we resolve the US’s 3-million-person labor shortage that may last the decade without raising unemployment?
Simple. We can do it by making smart changes to immigration policy.
Employers, by large majorities, believe the US immigration system should be modernized to allow for the skilled and unskilled labor employers needed to fuel economic growth. Even though immigration is a political powder keg and lately has generated many headlines, it is time for US businesses to lobby Congress to modernize the worker immigration system to enable economic growth.
Now the headlines:
The headlines lately tell a story of the Biden administration replacing the Trump-era Title 42 protocol that makes it harder for immigrants seeking asylum to be successful in the US. The Biden administration is reverting to the previous Title 8 immigration law, encouraging migrants to use legal pathways to enter the US instead of crossing the border. After a brief surge before the end of Title 42, the number asylum seekers trying to enter the US fell 50 percent on the southern border.
Immigrants’ share of the US labor force has recently grown. People born outside the U.S. made up 18.1% of the overall labor force, up from 17.4% the prior year and the highest level in data back to 1996, the Labor Department said in its annual report on foreign-born workers. Perhaps more interesting is that more foreign-born people joined the labor force than native-born Americans, accounting for more than half of the 3.1 million overall gain last year, the report said.
But it isn’t enough to fuel economic growth.
Last month, the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) released the latest installment of its workplace immigration research, showing that employers continue to believe the U.S. immigration system needs to be modernized so that it can spur economic growth and keep the United States globally competitive.
The SHRM survey included HR professionals answering on behalf of their employers at 2,505 organizations of all sizes in every region of the country, representing 19 different industries.
Key findings of the survey include the following:
- Nearly three in four (or 73 percent) of responding employers agreed that increased immigration encourages economic growth and makes America more globally competitive.
- Most employers (54 percent) agreed that the United States is losing out on top talent because of its immigration system. This is coupled with more than three in four (78%) employers who disagreed that increased immigration would make it harder for Americans to find jobs.
- While employers had overall positive experiences with their foreign-born workers, that contrasted with the low levels of positive experience with the system.
The SHRM research found that workforce disruptions hurt economic growth:
- Nearly half (46 percent) of US organizations are experiencing workforce disruptions because of a shortage of available workers.
- Among organizations experiencing disruption, 10percent will have to either shut down or slow production.
- Organizations in critical industries like healthcare (50percent), manufacturing (58percent), and education (57 percent) are most likely to report workforce disruptions because of a shortage of workers.
To make the U.S. workplace immigration system work better, employers offered their five top suggestions for improvements in the SHRM survey:
- Enable electronic filing throughout the system.
- Introduce automatic renewals continuously.
- Provide more guidance from applicable government agencies.
- Create a “Known Employer” program that streamlines the process for employers that submit multiple applications.
Spark US economic growth by modernizing the US workplace immigration system
When I was hiring 650 employees over 18 months to design, manufacture, and market new bare metal and drug-eluting stents and stent graphs at Medtronic’s business in Santa Rosa, CA, in the mid-2000s, our recruiting team would not have succeeded with the legal hiring of skilled and low-skilled positions. I am speaking about statisticians, regulatory affairs professionals, engineers, scientists, clinical researchers, and manufacturing.
Back then, we spoke of this as the American Brain Drain. We drained the world’s best brains to attend our universities and seek work in the US, filling needed roles that could not be filled by hiring American-born labor alone. These students wanted to stay in the US because of our constitutional liberties, higher living standards, and relatively low levels of corruption.
Now we face a Reverse Brain Drain, with these students returning to their home countries because American companies cannot get enough visas to gainfully employ them here.
In my book Hack Recruiting, I document how every American generation has benefited from immigration workforces. At the time of printing (August 2019), immigrants comprised 36 percent of the students pursuing STEM degrees and more than half of the PhD students pursing mathematics, engineering, and computer science degrees in US Universities. Immigrants made up an extraordinary number of our entrepreneurs. In Silicon Valley, the percentage of immigrants who were founders of companies was 44 percent Between 2006 and 20012, 24 percent of companies across the United States had at least one key founder who was foreign-born.
When US employers cannot hire enough immigrants, they simply move their operations overseas, which hurts American growth.
President Franklyn Roosevelt enacted the Bracero Program with Mexico to enable American farms and factories to remain staffed and productive during World War II. More than 4.6 million Mexican workers were in the program. It continued until 1965 through five American Presidents.
It is time to act
It is time to modernize our shoddy immigration system to ease critical labor shortages and spur American growth so critical jobs are not lost overseas. This modernization would fit the need to grow American manufacturing for key industries like semiconductors, electronic vehicles, and pharmaceuticals back to the United States.
My friends in business, it is time to act. Write and call your congressional representatives. Join the activity of your business associations to lobby for these changes. Do something!
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne, LLC. He works with organizations to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: The Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. He is quoted in business journals such as The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, and CEO Magazine. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at http://www.VictorHRConsultant.com.