With the recent economic downturn, we are seeing a lot less employers who come to us because they cannot find qualified professional or skilled workers. This is a good thing for the local economy. There is finally starting to be a better balance between local employer needs and available workers.
But, there are still employers in the Sarasota area who have particular needs and are not finding local workers who can fill those needs. This includes professional jobs that involve software and technology, engineering and international trade. It also includes skilled jobs that involve restaurants and hospitality services, specialized construction and manufacturing trades, and more advanced agricultural jobs.
In immigration circles, a “professional” job is one that requires a university degree. A “skilled” job is one that requires at least two years of education, training or prior work experience.
So what are these employers doing now to find these professional and skilled workers? They are expanding their recruiting efforts outside the local area and some have been exploring different immigration options to bring in workers from outside the U.S.
In most cases, Sarasota area employers are not actively recruiting foreign workers. Usually, they already have a worker on staff that can do the job and originally comes from another country. A common refrain that we hear from employers is, “If I could get ten more workers like her, I would be thrilled!”.
The worker who is already in the U.S. has a friend or relative in the home country that can also do the job and recommends this person to the employer. Then, the employer comes to us and says, ¡§I want this worker, what can I do to bring him here?¡¨
For professional workers, our solution used to be the H-1B visa. This is a three year visa for professional-level workers. But, this visa is limited in number. In the past two years, the government has received over twice the number of applications for new H-1B visas than there were visas available on the FIRST day of the year that visas were available. This means that H-1B visas are essentially unavailable for 364 days per year (certain nonprofit organizations are not subject to the annual cap).
Without H-1B visas, the solutions are more limited. The best options at this point are temporary visas for professional workers that have been created through free trade agreements between the U.S. and other foreign countries. This includes the following:
- The TN visa for certain kinds of professional workers from Canada or Mexico. The visa is issued in one year increments and is renewable. The government may soon allow the visa to be issued in three year increments.
- The H-1B1 for professionals from Chile and Singapore.
- The E-3 visa for professionals from Australia.
Though these visas are limited to workers from certain countries, we have advised employers on bringing in engineers and engineering technicians from Australia, Mexico and Chile, hotel managers and consultants from Canada, and more.
The options are even more limited for skilled workers. The best options at this point are H-2B visas for seasonal employees. This visa is also available for unskilled workers, but like the H-1B visa there are only a limited number of H-2B visas available each year. Ever wonder how hotels get all those foreign workers on the cleaning staff? Often these workers have H-2B visas.
Professionals and skilled workers can also qualify for visas in the following special situations:
- The O-1 visa if the worker has extraordinary skills or abilities (we use this visa a lot for sports related jobs in the area)
- The J-1 visa or H-3 if the worker is seeking to participate in a training program or internship.
- Extended Optional Practical Training for foreign students on F-1 visas who have degrees in science, technology, engineering and math related subjects.
- P-3 or Q-1 visas if the worker will provide information about topics that are unique to his or her culture (we have used this visa for a Scandinavian sailor, European culinary specialists, and Latin American dance instructors).
As the economy improves, we expect to see more employers that are unable to find professional and skilled workers. As Congress considers changes to the immigration laws, one big area of contention is increasing the number of visas for temporary professional and skilled workers. We hope that people in the Sarasota area will see that approving such measures will help the local economy by allowing local companies to grow. We believe that pro-immigration legislation will actually help Sarasota retain the jobs that are filled by U.S. workers and will keep more of our local companies from relocating elsewhere.