Amid the evolving global economy throughout the past year, employers may be reassessing their approach to talent acquisition and retention. Companies are navigating uncertainty by recalibrating mobility programs, aiming to not only attract but also retain talent to fulfill a skills gap in the U.S. workforce. Central to leveraging foreign talent is the power of immigration branding and messaging. A strategic emphasis on employee longevity proactively curtails workforce attrition and preempts potential labor shortages in the future.

Attracting talent

Understanding and leveraging avenues offered by U.S. immigration laws can be pivotal in securing the right skills and meeting business demands to drive success. Employers commonly leverage F-1 student OPT/STEM OPT training and the H-1B and L-1 work visa programs to source foreign workers in the talent ecosystem.

Foreign students with work authorization pursuant to OPT/STEM OPT are prime candidates for expanding a company’s talent pool with long-term development potential. Employers may attract foreign students through internships while the student completes their academic program, post-graduation employment pursuant to OPT/STEM OPT, and subsequent work visa and green card sponsorship. For most foreign students, switching from a student visa to a work permit is often challenging due to the restrictions and limited availability of H-1B visas. However, companies with an overseas presence may be able to set up strategically located hubs abroad to recruit and employ foreign nationals who were not able to obtain an H-1B visa, and then transfer them back to the United States with L-1 intracompany transfer visas following their employment abroad over at least one year. A company’s corporate immigration policy outlining support of various immigration pathways, and benchmarked against the policy of industry peers, is a competitive tool to meet foreign workers’ needs and attract high-potential talent.

Retaining talent

In response to the need for talent retention, employers are strategically tapping into their existing talent pool to bolster operational efficiency. With post-COVID-19 employees seeking greater fulfillment, employers may want to consider proactively refining their retention efforts to include top-tier foreign talent.

Companies are increasingly turning to their internal talent reservoirs to bridge skill gaps and curtail additional hiring costs. Retaining current talent is becoming pivotal for success, mobility, and business continuity. To address the evolving landscape of talent retention and the demand from foreign talent for immigration support, employers may consider several key strategies. 

Various immigration pathways offer avenues for continued employment, providing stability to existing talent. For example, some companies leverage sponsorship for work visa programs and employment-based green cards to retain skilled foreign workers. Payment of legal fees and the provision of immigration counsel are initial steps in this effort, and other offerings including immigration seminars for employees and family members, an internal immigration portal with FAQs and self-service features that provide status reports, and access to documents and opportunities for interaction with the immigration team are also important. Employers leverage streamlined extension processes for work authorization to ensure continuity for employees and the business without disruptions. Embracing technological advancements in immigration processes may streamline procedures, reduce processing times, and minimize errors. Further, a robust green card sponsorship program signals a long-term commitment to retain valuable talent and grants employees a sense of security and stability in their professional journey within the company. Clearly defined benchmarks when the company initiates green card sponsorship are not only a recruitment and retention tool but also ensure that foreign workers do not lose immigration status or work authorization. 

Adaptability and foresight also benefit companies navigating corporate immigration policy frameworks. Companies can implement consistent yet flexible approaches to immigration sponsorship that cater to both business needs and the foreign worker’s circumstances. For example, timing adjustments in initiating green card sponsorship may prevent work authorization gaps. Evaluating risks versus benefits might lead to early green card sponsorship for students to safeguard their status and work authorization if they are not selected in the H-1B lottery. Exploring alternative sponsorship options, such as supporting family-based or self-sponsored petitions, could be viable alternatives for a company to retain critical talent and may streamline the process and save time. Finally, recognizing and addressing the needs of dependents, such as spouses and children, within the immigration sponsorship process may be determinative to retain valuable talent.

Developing talent

Companies recognize the importance of not just attracting and retaining foreign talent but also developing their skills and potential. With strategic planning, immigration strategies can help advance the capabilities of international talent within a corporate setting.

Demand for H-1B visas has increased while the number of available visas has remained static. In response, employers are assisting international talent to develop their credentials to become eligible for an O-1 visa as an alternative. The O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities allows companies to support foreign workers in advancing their careers by recognizing their exceptional talent and contributions. Although the standard to qualify is high, for many foreign workers there are specific steps they can take to proactively bolster their resume toward becoming “O-1 visa ready.”

Sponsorship of certain visa categories, such as EB-1A for individuals with extraordinary ability or a National Interest Waiver to bypass the requirement to test the labor market, may encourage innovation and leadership among an employer’s foreign workers. Elevating a green card process to a higher preference category generally accelerates the process and the prospect of a higher preference category may lead foreign nationals to excel in their fields, drive innovation, and propel critical progress for the company.

Multinational employers are increasingly implementing international rotational programs and cross-border exchanges to foster skill development and broaden experiences. This approach not only addresses internal labor shortages but also mitigates the need for expensive talent searches and replacements. These programs offer benefits akin to longer-term assignments, facilitating knowledge transfer and nurturing company culture at a reduced cost. Such exposure can empower foreign workers with diverse market insights, enriching their skill sets and fostering a global perspective. Moreover, it allows businesses to harness internal expertise to bolster critical initiatives. However, the rise in popularity of these short-term rotation and remote work programs may invite heightened compliance measures, including increased audits and inspections. Hence, employers should anticipate a trend towards more rigorous immigration requirements aligning with labor, tax, and social security laws.