According to the June 2021 America Works Report released by the United States Chamber of Commerce, the United States is facing an unprecedented labor shortage. Can the U.S manufacturers’ labor shortage be solved by leveraging immigration? Read on to find out.
The America Works Report analyzed over 20 years of employment data and federal jobs. Among the analyses within the report is the concerning finding that there are approximately half as many available workers for every currently open job. Moreover, the U.S Chamber of Commerce found that this number continues to decline.
What Is Causing the United States’ Skill Shortage?
While the COVID pandemic is certainly a major contributing factor, it would not be fair to put the entire blame on the pandemic as there are many other factors that have contributed to the United States’ skills shortage.
One of the primary contributing factors to the United States’ skills shortage is the dearth of highly skilled workers in emerging technological spheres such as automation, robotics, and mechatronics. While these spheres are crucial to the further modernization of society, they have hit the manufacturing industry quite hard.
Like many other employers, manufacturers are implementing the offering of benefits in order to retain skilled labor in the industry. However, before employers can implement any such benefits, they have to find the workers who will receive them.
How Can Immigration Be Leveraged to Fill the Labor Gap?
Historically speaking, immigration has been vital to the economic growth of the United States by providing an alternative source of labor to employers in various industries with labor gaps. Similarly, the manufacturing industry can turn to immigration to fill the skills shortage, both for skilled labor and high-level professionals.
While there are certainly limitations in the current system of immigration, such that the needs of all spheres cannot be met, there are still some viable options.
- Under the L-1 visa, manufacturers that operate internationally can transfer existing employees of a foreign entity to the United States in the form of intracompany transferees. Essentially, the U.S based manufacturer transfers from within the international organization. Therefore, the manufacturer can benefit from specialized knowledge of the company’s products or systems that were gained by the transferee during their employment abroad.
- The United States can also leverage its international trade agreements with several countries, which include work visa options for the citizens of those countries. The most well-known trade agreement is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which provides work visa options for citizens of Canada and Mexico for work in the U.S. in a large number of professions. These include engineering technicians, technologists, and computer systems analysts. Notably, most of the professions covered by the USMCA require the worker to have a bachelor’s degree. However, the categories of technologists and engineering technicians allow the worker to qualify for work in the U.S. based on the possession of theoretical knowledge of engineering principles. This option could prove useful for U.S. manufacturers in the effort to fill specialized robotics and mechatronics technician jobs.
- For more advanced positions, the H-1B work visa can be leveraged by manufacturers, particularly for those jobs that qualify as “specialty occupations.” However, notably, the H-1B visa carries crucial limitations, such as a lottery-based selection process and an annual quota.
- In order to fill temporary, seasonal needs for both skilled and unskilled labor, manufacturers can also leverage the H-2B work visa.
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