The Biden Administration is taking quick action to reform U.S. immigration policies, including overhauling programs aimed at bringing more skilled foreign workers into the U.S. to address the talent gap. This is promising news for the tech sector, parts of which are experiencing accelerated growth as the demand for services and technologies continues to surge.
Yet, in light of the vast transformations over the past year, the big question is, do we still need a local workforce in the post-Covid world?
Ten years ago I began my pursuit to come to the U.S. to build my company, Druva. I was coming here to grow a new business in a country where fewer barriers to entrepreneurship existed, where scale was achievable at rates not possible anywhere else and where ingenuity thrived.
Fast-forward to today. After a year of lockdowns, many tech companies realize their workforce can be highly productive and effectively scale in a remote environment. Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman (an immigrant himself), for example, commented on CNBC, “This whole notion that the office is your workday home, we realize that is nonsense”.
Growing confidence in and acceptance of a work-from-anywhere model opens up access to a vast world of talent like never before. It also opens the door to more intense competition for that talent. The U.K., for instance, is considering a new program to fast-track tech visas, according to the Financial Times (paywall).
America’s world domination in tech-driven innovation over the last several decades was fueled by immigrants who were attracted to this mecca of innovation. It’s telling that more than 40% of all Nobel prizes were awarded to immigrant Americans since 2000.
Even in this new remote-first environment, there are still important advantages to bringing high-tech jobs to the U.S. The massive paradigm shifts in the way we work, driven by cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, require a perfect mixture of critical talent, capital, a supporting ecosystem, and targeted government policy to thrive.
Take Tesla, for example. The company was created by a South African immigrant and is harnessing the best minds in software and machine learning to power the rebirth of the American auto industry. I’d argue Tesla benefits from proximity to customers, critical technology infrastructure, research institutions, and access to capital — elements that still dictate a need for a local talent pool.
Our strength as a country lies in bringing innovation to life and building it on a scale that impacts millions of people around the globe. If we lose that edge, we slowly chip away at our real superpower.
Aligning Immigration Policies And Business Needs With Economic Values
Expanding student- and employment-based visas, as the Biden Administration proposes, will help expand our base of skilled workers over time. Keeping the high minimum salary bar on H-1B visas helps avoid abuses of the program while creating a path for organizations to recruit people with highly specialized skills. I would also propose the U.S. implement an entrepreneurship visa to attract talent and intellectual capital.
However, it is not up to the government alone: Tech leaders have a central role to play. We need to ensure we’re balancing the ability to hire talent anywhere in the world, with attracting skilled foreign workers here. What can the U.S. tech community do to attract the very best given our new realities?
Implementing more formal exchange programs, once travel restrictions lift, can encourage top-performing team members to spend time working outside their home country and in turn promote a more globally-minded organization. As tech leaders rethink the traditional headquarters or office-branch structure, having smaller, more dispersed offices in more locations opens new opportunities to attract the right skills while giving potential recruits more options.
Ultimately, though, technologists want a challenge. Creating opportunities to solve big, complex problems, working with cutting-edge technologies, and learning from others is still the most powerful magnet. Not every company can be Google or Apple, but every company can create a culture that champions entrepreneurial initiatives and gives employees the incentive to challenge themselves.
The World Needs Bold Solutions
It would be an understatement to say we face some truly inspiring challenges ahead, both as a country and as part of the global community. Amid these massive challenges, it’s time to unleash the innovators and entrepreneurs of the world to solve problems big and small. Opening up our doors and feeding the entrepreneurial spirit everywhere — even within our own organizations — can improve lives and boost the American economy.