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Regulatory & Legislative Updates: Action to Address the Technical Talent Shortage

Before August Recess, Congress Sees Flurry of Action to Technical Talent Shortage

It’s August, meaning the U.S. House and Senate are back home or engaged in fact-finding travel. While there has been slow progress on budget matters, there has been action to address the technical talent shortage. Below are some examples, with the regulatory action being the most promising.

Bipartisan Group of U.S. Representatives Urge DHS and State Dept. to Clear Visa Backlog

On July 28, 2023, Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN) led a bipartisan group of 56 House colleagues who urged the Secretaries of the Departments of State and Homeland Security to take steps to address the backlog for high-skilled employment-based visa holders. Their press release provided the background:

In their letter, the U.S. Representatives request that the Administration mark all dates for the filing of employment-based visa applications in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ published Employment-Based Visa Bulletin as “current.”  Marking all dates as “current” [as of October 1, the start of the new fiscal year] would allow employment-based applications to be filed regardless of applicants’ country-based priority date, which would provide relief to thousands of individuals attempting to legally navigate the U.S. immigration system and could potentially also make some eligible for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) to change jobs, start businesses, and travel abroad to visit family without penalty. Without this administrative action, which was also used during the administration of President George W. Bush, individuals are left in a constant state of limbo and, in some cases, are punished for utilizing a pathway of legal immigration by being forced to stay with one company or organization due to their green card status.”

We recently reported on the expected State Department pilot program to allow visa holders to renew their visas without leaving the U.S. and other efforts to expedite approval and renewals. We will continue to follow the executive branch’s efforts to address the visa backlog. Please share with us your company’s experiences and concerns.

Rep. Krishnamoorthi Pushes Additional Legislative and Regulatory Action

Illinois Representative Krishnamoorthi has led several initiatives to address some aspects of the visa backlog and the technical talent worker shortage. Krishnamoorthi has a technical background, earning a mechanical engineering degree from Princeton before going on to Harvard Law.

On July 14, Representatives Krishnamoorthi and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) introduced H.R. 4647, the “High-Skilled Immigration Reform for Employment (HIRE) Act.” The bill would double the annual number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 130,000 to address the near-term technical talent shortage and invest in K-12 STEM programs to increase interest in IT, engineering, and related fields. Representative Krishnamoorthi said, “. . . I am proud to introduce the HIRE Act to increase investments in elementary and secondary school STEM education while doubling the number of available H-1B visas from 65,000 to 130,000. By investing in our homegrown talent while attracting the best minds from around the world, we can create better paying jobs and harness the technology of tomorrow.” The bill was referred to the House Committees on Education and the Workforce and the Judiciary.

On a parallel track, Representatives Krishnamoorthi and G.T Thompson (R-PA) wrote Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su urging DOL to work with Congress on transitioning from degree-required jobs to skills-based hiring. They aim to help address the worker shortage and build a robust middle class. According to Census data, over 60 percent of the U.S. workforce does not hold a bachelor’s degree, yet many industries require four-year degrees for specific jobs that do not require this level of formal education.

The Representatives ask for DOL’s help in accelerating “the shift towards an evidence-based approach to skills-based hiring that will expand opportunities for workers who are skilled through means other than a four-year degree.” Representatives Krishnamoorthi and Thompson were joined by ten colleagues on this bipartisan letter. In addition to addressing the overall worker shortage, such changes would benefit IT employers that seek government contracts; government contracts often require four-year degrees, cutting highly skilled IT professionals from the team. Last year, TechServe provided tips on how IT employers can work with government contracting officers to staff contracts with apprentices, see here for more information. Please email us with your stories if you support the skills-based hiring movement.

How Can TechServe Members Get Involved?

The August recess provides an excellent opportunity to meet with your Representatives and Senators about issues that concern you, your business, and your workers. Options range from casual settings like town halls, back-to-school events, or political gatherings to a scheduled meeting and possibly a site visit to your offices. TechServe’s Government Affairs Team is ready to help facilitate your advocacy with training, talking points, sample letters, help scheduling meetings, and more. Send an email to Julie Strandlie for assistance.

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