Small Business Visa Wars

Hiring foreign employees has always been a tough task for US small business employers. The demand for skilled workers is ever increasing in the small business industry. Founders and entrepreneurs of start-ups have to face an ongoing challenge of finding qualified talent that is ready for hire.

Large technology companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp have long urged Congress to increase the quantity of the H-1B visas—claiming there aren’t enough American tech professionals to fill their positions.

According to immigration data analyzed by the Brookings Institution, only about 30% of applications for H-1B visas make it past the preliminary stage of the process, the bulk of which are filed by start-ups and small employers. The biggest problem is that most start-ups and small firms lack human-resources departments to handle the complex paperwork, and the funds to cover legal expenses associated with hiring a foreign worker under the program.

Currently, 65,000 H-1B visas are available for first-time applicants each year, plus an extra 20,000 for advanced degree holders. According to U.S. immigration agency data, majority of these visas are awarded to workers in computer-related fields, mostly from India or China.

Ted Acworth, the founder of Artaic, a Boston-based firm that develops software, said that he hired an Italian national with a mechanical-engineer degree from Boston University, after reviewing nearly 100 applications for a job as head engineer.

But in July this year, the employee’s temporary student visa expired and he is set to return home. “As a small company, I can’t wait 15 months for the chance to get him back” by applying for the next round of H-1B visas, Mr. Acworth said.

Another observation is that higher demand for H-1B visas doesn’t reflect a limited supply of qualified workers, but rather a demand for cheaper workers. Raising the annual visa (H-1B) cap, will lower wages in the IT labor market and chase more domestic IT graduates into different fields.

However, for most small business owners, talent is the most important thing and they don’t mind going through the process of dealing with the hassle of visa paper work and added legal fees. All they are looking for is “the best people to do the job, period”!

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