New changes to the H-1B visa program this year may be spurring renewed concern about exactly how the U.S. can fill a critical skills gap.
On one hand, given the president’s Executive Order, “Buy American, Hire American,” the government is reforming the H-1B program to, among other things, give priority to only the most highly skilled and highest paid H-1B candidates. While bringing in qualified and experienced professionals may seem like a good thing, it’s still not enough to fill critical positions in the tech industry to meet the growing demand for advanced software. And, the government has added restrictions to the H-1B application process that make it harder for all skilled workers from other countries to obtain visas to work in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the tech industry is headed for a perfect storm when it comes to recruiting skilled tech professionals. Many foreign workers are not able to work for U.S. firms, despite the fact that the country is already facing a critical shortage of qualified workers.
One key area where demand for skilled workers just can’t be met is data science. Highly-skilled data scientists are needed in droves to develop and continually maintain algorithms that teach AI programs to recognize patterns and predict behaviors and other outcomes.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that there are just not enough programs to educate data scientists. According to the University of California, Riverside, only one-third of U.S. universities offer data scientist programs and most of them are offered to graduate students; only six offer these programs to undergraduates. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be 490,000 data scientist positions but only 200,000 skilled professionals to fill the openings.
Recent H-1B visa developments
The H-1B visa could be one way to help fill the skilled tech worker gap, yet recent regulations have added restrictions to the application process. The government is taking longer to approve the visas and denying more workers. The application acceptance rate has also been impacted, dropping 13 percent from the previous year (74 percent vs 87 percent), making it the lowest percentage in 10 years.
Other changes include a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) form that employers of H-1B applicants need to submit. Additionally, earlier last fall, the government had suspended premium processing for certain H-1B petitions which has been used to expedite processing when employees move to a different location in the same company or to a new company, but premium processing has since been reinstated.
All of these changes are creating an air of uncertainty and, for the most part, are making it harder for companies to get the specialized tech expertise they need.
The answer is close by: nearshoring
To address the worker shortage caused by a lack of skilled IT professionals – from the U.S. and overseas – many companies are turning to nearshore providers. Nearshorers offer the next best option to having employees on staff – close proximity to clients which facilitates strong communication and collaboration. The ability to work closely with their clients, and share a common language enables these providers to become immersed in and fully understand a client’s business environment – which is critical to developing and maintaining advanced IT solutions.
Most nearshore firms share the same work ethic and high industry standards as their mainland U.S. counterparts, and hire very skilled data scientists, many of whom have attended U.S. universities.
A great combination: H-1B visa program and nearshoring
Experienced IT professionals will continue to be in demand by all types of companies in all industries, as, for example, advances in AI enables them to gain critical insight, improve customer experience and outcomes and make better decisions. Yet, as the demand for data scientists (and other tech experts) continues to grow and greatly outpace supply, companies need to find innovative ways to meet their staffing needs. While the H-1B visas offer a good solution by bringing diverse perspectives to software development, companies need to supplement in-house talent with other approaches as well, given the limited numbers of visas that are being issued.
Nearshoring provides an ideal way to fill this need; it offers the best of both worlds – providing the geographic and cultural closeness that supports the in-depth communication and collaboration needed for high-level software development, while also offering broader perspectives from professionals from other geographical areas. By combining the H-1B visa program with services from a nearshore provider, companies will have a winning talent recruitment strategy that puts them on the fast track to success.