Although the nation-wide shortage of workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the “STEM” fields) is well-known, the comparable and equally critical shortage of skilled workers in fields like manufacturing has hardly been publicized at all.
Most efforts by American industry, including those specific to machining, have focused on improving programs and training for young adults; even trying to grab the interest of students as young as 12 or 13 to entice them into a career in the skilled trades. Despite these efforts, nobody knows if the U.S. will produce enough skilled laborers to support the manufacturing sector in the coming years.
Unlike in the STEM fields, there have been few government- sponsored visa programs to bring skilled trade workers to the U.S.—so the affected industries have been left to solve the problem by themselves. One part of the solution to the skilled labor shortage could be to hire skilled trades-people from Europe’s strong apprenticeship system and bring them into local machine shops. But how does a shop go about doing this, and is it worth the time and cost? These questions bring up the role legal immigration could play in supplying the necessary amount of talent to support the U.S. manufacturing industry in the coming years.
An intro to the U.S. visa system
Each year the U.S. makes available 140,000 employment related visas that can lead to permanent residency by awarding a permanent resident card, or “green card,” and 65,000 H-1B visas, which are strictly employment-related and have an expiration date. Another 225,000 family-related “green cards” are also issued annually, but these have nothing to do with employment. All “green cards” are permanent, although they sometimes have conditions and must be renewed periodically, like drivers’ licenses. Employment related visas are issued based on the applicants’ education level, and there are multi-year backlogs to get one, said William A. Stock, an attorney specializing in business immigration with the Philadelphia law firm Klasko, Rulon, Stock & Seltzer, LLP.
The H-1B visa, which is good for six years, is one of an alphabet soup of temporary visas that companies can use to sponsor foreign nationals to come and work in the U.S. Other visas used for this purpose include the H-2A, H-2B, L and E visas. H-1Bs are different from the other temporary visas in that someone in the U.S. with one is eligible to apply for permanent residency.