President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators recently announced proposals for immigration reform that would create a path to citizenship for approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Clearly, they have a tough battle ahead. According to the Gainesville (Florida) Sun, the proposals, if successful, would represent the largest overhaul of the federal immigration system since the Reagan era and have an enormous impact on businesses, border security, the major political parties and, of course, the millions of illegal immigrants living in America.
If you’re like me, you can become overwhelmed by the amount of information available through the media and other sources about such a complex issue. You practically have to be a lawyer, an economist or a think tank guru (or all three!) to understand the subtleties of the proposed changes and the implications of reform. As I read through the media coverage I tried to figure out how immigration reform would affect the staffing industry. A couple of key points stand out:
First,having a clear immigration policy on the federal level should be vastly superior to the state-by-state series of regulations in place today. The idea of having clear rules that apply everywhere makes a lot of sense.
Second, among the wide range of proposed reforms are streamlined processes for verifications and visas to help businesses get the employees they need, especially businesses who can’t fill jobs locally because of a lack of local talent.
And third, the proposed reforms would provide green cards for foreign students at American universities who earn advanced degrees in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to encourage them to stay and work in the US.
Bottom line: It appears that immigration reform is likely to create more opportunities to hire qualified and advanced-degreed foreign workers in the U.S., and that’s a good thing for businesses and the staffing industry at large. In other words, the talent pool is about to expand in a big way.
The challenge for staffing professionals is this: How do we help our clients manage this influx of talent?
Staffing firms and their clients can start by asking some questions:
- Do you have knowledgeable visa coordinators?
- How do you assess foreign job skills to ensure they are adequate for open positions in the U.S.?
- Do you have enough knowledge of foreign cultures to know that a foreign worker hired in the U.S. will be able to fit in and adapt to a new kind of work environment?
- Is financial sponsorship of foreign workers a cost you are willing to take on? If so, how do you off-set those costs?
Those are just a few questions that staffing professionals — and their clients — will grapple with as proposed immigration reform moves forward. One thing is clear: While the issues are far from being sorted out, the staffing industry will have an important role to play in helping our clients adapt to — and win — in the new, expanded workplace.