Their restrictive migration policies deprive the United States of the brains needed for its technology sector

WASHINGTON — Representatives of the new technology sector are preparing to go to Capitol Hill this week, to warn that working from home could lead to the relocation of software developers and other tech jobs if the United States does not let more workers in. highly skilled immigrants.

Between January 2020 and last month, the number of remote tech jobs jumped more than 420%, growth intensified by the pandemic, according to an analysis of employment data by the group of associations of Tecna technology companies. In February, more than 22% of tech jobs were listed as remote, up from 4.4% in January 2020.

“The level of telecommuting jobs in the technology sector is significantly higher than before the pandemic,” observes Jennifer Grundy Young, CEO of Tecna. “This means that employees can live anywhere in the United States, but unfortunately it opens the door to an increase in offshoring – with employees living in India, China or going to countries like Canada whose immigration policies are more flexible. »

The United States grants 65,000 visas for skilled workers each year under its H1-B program, and 20,000 for graduates of American universities. These figures have not budged since 2005 despite the surge in the number of jobs in the technology sector.

On the other hand, Canada, which has been struggling for years to attract tech employees and entrepreneurs, does not cap the number of visas it grants them, which makes it an attractive destination for Indian, Chinese and international coders. Eastern Europe as well as for software engineers who have difficulty obtaining a visa for the United States.

Toronto has added more than 81,000 tech jobs since 2016, more than any other city in North America according to a report released last year by CBRE, a U.S. real estate investment and services firm. business.

Many employers in the tech sector complain that they are not successful in recruiting and that discouraging foreign talent on the pretext that there are not enough visas endangers the country’s leading position in the field of tech and innovation

In March, the US tech unemployment rate was 1.3%, its lowest level since June 2019, which is one-third of the national unemployment rate according to data from the Computing Technology Industry Association. and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many employers in the tech sector complain that they are not successful in recruiting and that discouraging foreign talent on the pretext that there are not enough visas endangers the country’s leading position in the field of tech and of innovation.

“There is immense frustration, which I share, within technology companies that have been constantly asking us to improve the system for so many years that I have lost count, and nothing has been able to change, ”laments California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, whose constituency includes Silicon Valley. “It could end up hurting the US economy. No rule says that Silicon Valley will always be the queen of new technologies. »

Ms. Lofgren is pushing to increase the number of visas available and is working with California Republican elected official Darrell Issa to change the H1-B program. She also proposed a law eliminating the country cap on work visas.

According to a spokesman for Mr. Issa, the MP is not in favor of increasing the total number of visas.

The debate on the immigration of skilled workers has been overshadowed in recent years by border policies and other immigration-related topics. In congressional hearings, Republican lawmakers have made immigration at the border with Mexico a priority issue and said companies should favor the training of American workers rather than relying on the workforce foreign.

“This Congress has made it abundantly clear, both by action and inaction, that it puts Americans last and puts foreign labor and the big corporations that shamelessly exploit them first,” said pleaded Rep. Tom McClintock, California, Republican leader for the immigration subcommittee, during a hearing last summer focusing on the flow of foreign workers to Canada as a result of US immigration policies. United.

In recent years, Democrats have also blocked H1-B, saying they want the program to be part of a broader set of migration policy changes.

Grundy Young said tech lobbyists are trying to reframe the debate by reframing the H1-B program as a labor issue rather than an immigration lens.

She explained that the study carried out by Tecna, examined by The Wall Street Journal and due to be released this week, shows that tech jobs have shifted during the pandemic, moving from places like Silicon Valley and New York to smaller hubs like Nashville.

The pandemic has accelerated the trend for American tech companies to look for easier ways to recruit the engineers and software developers they need – and to be much more open to working from home to attract talent.

That means letting employees live in their home countries or sending them to English-speaking countries with more relaxed migration policies rather than struggling with the H1-B program or other specialized work visas, proponents of the reform of migration policies.

“The employer always prefers its employees to be in the United States, but if that is not possible it will recruit talent and send them where they can work productively,” comments Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation. for American Policy, a nonpartisan research organization specializing in business and immigration. “What the pandemic has shown is that working remotely in another country can be a productive option. »

MobSquad, a Canadian company that matches U.S. tech companies with foreign workers it brings to Canada, says it has quadrupled its business since the pandemic began. Today, he deals with files on behalf of more than fifty companies.

“Before the pandemic, the idea of ​​having employees spread across multiple offices and multiple cities made them reluctant,” reports Arif Khimani, president and COO of Mobsquad. “Today, they proved to themselves that working from home was not a problem. »

Tecna’s study of tech job transformations since the pandemic finds that Tennessee has seen the biggest increase in jobs in this sector, with an 8% increase.

Even so, research by the Nashville Regional Technology Council shows that 15,000 positions remain unfilled in the industry, raising concerns that Tennessee-based tech companies are looking to Canada.

“The growing need for tech talent is outstripping the number of workers entering the industry,” said Elise Cambournac, CEO of the Nashville Technology Council.

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

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