Scarce Tech Talent Even Harder to Find in Tumultuous U.S. Political Climate

Uncertainty around immigration policy leading up to the presidential election and in the first months of the Trump administration has set off concerns throughout the tech industry, which has used foreign workers to address a shortage of workers in the U.S.

Search data from Indeed already shows fewer job seekers based outside the country are searching for U.S. positions. Now an analysis of 175,000 interview requests from Hired shows that U.S. companies are reaching out to foreign talent less frequently.

Hired is a job site that matches employers with candidates. It uses information from jobs seekers to send a curated list of available talent to companies each week. Employers can then reach out to to the candidates with interview requests and Hired charges a fee for each worker that companies end up hiring, typically 15% of the employee’s starting salary. Nearly 10,000 companies and 1.5 million job seekers use the platform.

The site saw a 60% decrease in interview requests from U.S.-based companies to foreign workers from Q2 to Q4 2016 and says this was due to the level of uncertainty surrounding the future of immigration policy during the election. Although the number of requests rebounded after the election, they were still down more than 20% in the second quarter of 2017 compared to one year prior.

Hired also found that foreign candidates were accepting interview requests from U.S. companies 4% less often during the election than they had earlier in the year.

To learn more about what was going on, Hired sent out a survey to workers in the tech industry. With only 362 employees responding — mainly product managers, software engineers, data scientists, and designers — the results are not representative of the U.S. tech workforce as a whole. But the survey does give voice to workers in U.S. tech hubs, like the San Francisco Bay Area, Austin, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Boston, and New York City.

The 2016 election made 40% of tech workers surveyed consider relocating outside the United States. Nearly one-third of the those employees named Canada as their first option. The other top destinations were Germany at 12%, the continent of Asia and Australia at 10%.

“The primary consequence is less talent available to companies in the U.S., but the secondary consequence is that potential founders in the U.S. are starting to think about starting a company elsewhere,” said Hired CEO Mehul Patel.

More than three out of four tech workers in the U.S. surveyed by Hired believe immigrants are important to their sector.

It’s hardly surprising. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. The 2011 report from the Partnership For A New American Economy that published that statistic resurfaced earlier this year as CEOs railed against President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

And the tech workers polled by Hired agree with them: 60% of survey respondents believe the current administration will have a negative impact on the tech industry and nearly one in four said they were less likely to start a company in the U.S. as a result.

That’s troubling feedback since 55% of the survey respondents agreed that the U.S. doesn’t have enough tech talent to meet demand. Patel said the number of interview requests per employer on the site are rising to record levels— a sign that companies are spending more time and money hiring workers.

One vehicle to bring foreign talent into the tech sector has been the H-1B visa program. It has some vocal advocates, like Microsoft and Google. But it has some notable flaws: Critics say companies use it to outsource American jobs and underpay foreign workers.

Many of the tech workers surveyed feel H-1B visas are not the answer — 44% of U.S. citizens and 64% of non-citizens who took the survey don’t think the H-1B visa program is working.

“I do agree that the H-1B visa holders are taking some American jobs, not because they are more qualified, but because companies can pay them less to do the same work and they won’t complain because they just want a chance to stay in America,” one tech employee said in the survey. “Something needs to be done about the process, whether it’s equal pay, a decreased number of H-1B visas issued, or some other method.”

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