Ian Hunter – 26 Jun, 2020 US Perspective

President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting work visas like the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers is cutting off a critical source of foreign labor for tech companies already complaining about talent shortages.  Facebook, Amazon, Google, Intel and Twitter reacted quickly and negatively to the news along with several technology trade groups and venture capitalists all speaking out against the policy.

Google, who requested over 2,500 H1B visas in 2019, said the order threatened the recovery:  “America’s continued success depends on companies having access to the best talent from around the world. Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America’s economic recovery.”

At a time when the tech industry is working overtime to keep the world online during the pandemic, many fear that the move will hurt one of America’s most resilient sectors.  So what are the options for America’s technology leaders?

  • US Tech firms will turn to near-shoring – at a time of virtual working, many tech firms might consider the option of remote hiring within the US to fill their skills gap. Indeed, the recently formed U.S. International Development Finance Corp (DFC) is actively talking to companies about reshoring the manufacturing of personal protective equipment, generic drugs and pharmaceutical components – so why shouldn’t technology firms do the same?  With many technology and manufacturing firms realising how exposed their supply chains have become, an activist DFC could seize the chance to tip the scales back in America’s favour.

 

A near-shoring mindset will create opportunities for state level economic development organizations (EDOs) to start engaging with tech firms.  EDOs that are well networked into Silicon Valley, have developed clear talent propositions and have innovated by providing virtual landing services that will thrive under the ban.

 

  • US Tech firms will look aboard – technology has always been a relatively footloose industry, with many US firms having their international HQs spread across the capitals of Europe.  The ban many see American tech firms doubling down on their international recruitment activities.  Proactive account management should move to the top of the agenda for national EDOs seeking to cultivate and secure expansion opportunities at a time when many countries are facing a prolonged recession.  Likewise, EDOs with a network in Silicon Valley will now be best placed to find the next big start-up who is struggling to recruit in the US.
  • Why not both – Mature tech firms – who already have operations dotted around the globe – might look internally to the US to source new talent.  Likewise, they are just as likely to be agnostic to the idea of establishing a new office abroad if the service and talent offer is right.

 

With the ban set to run until the end of the year (and the possibility for extensions) a window of opportunity is now open for dynamic economic developers.  Like the scrappy start-ups of Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley, those EDOs who pivot quickly and disrupt the market will thrive.