Following an unprecedented year for immigration and mobility, we asked more than 500 HR professionals and hiring managers about their experiences navigating this changing environment and their opinions about the future. What we learned is that even amid sweeping change, the need for global talent persists, and both U.S. immigration and outbound travel will be imperative to employers as we rebuild our economy post-pandemic. We release our 2021 Immigration Trends Report with the hopes that it will allow HR managers, talent acquisition teams, CHROs and CEOs alike to benchmark their organization’s immigration and mobility strategies and meet the moment after a year of disruption.
Even amid sweeping change, the need for global talent has persisted, and immigration will be imperative to employers as we rebuild our economy post-pandemic.
Visa sponsorship persisted in 2020 despite challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demand for foreign talent is expected to continue as employers seek to fill open roles and foster innovation as the economy recovers.
Visa sponsorship remained an important talent acquisition lever for employers in 2020, despite travel restrictions and an economic slowdown. This year’s survey found that 82% of employers said that they expect their foreign national headcount to at least remain the same over the next year, and 59% expect it to explicitly increase, compared to 53% of respondents last year. Moreover, 71% of respondents said the widespread adoption of remote work would either not impact the number of foreign nationals they sponsor, or lead to increased sponsorship, largely due to the still constrained domestic supply of skilled talent.
96% of employers said that sourcing foreign talent is important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy
Q: How important is sourcing foreign national employees to your company’s talent acquisition strategy?
Green card sponsorship has reached peak levels as employers look to provide peace of mind to foreign nationals and secure long-term work authorization for their talent.
Green card sponsorship continued to play an important role in foreign talent acquisition and retention in 2020. Amid increased immigration scrutiny and economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, more respondents said their company sponsored a foreign national for a green card than in previous years.
74% of employers said their company has sponsored a foreign national for permanent residence, the highest percent in the six years we have been asking the question
Q: Has your company ever sponsored a foreign national for permanent residence (a green card)?
81% of employers who sponsor green cards start the process before the employee’s first H-1B renewal, and 58% do so before their first anniversary
Q: When does your company typically start the green card application process for your sponsored employees?
Employers remain vexed by the costs and limited number of visas available in the current U.S. immigration system, and conditions over the last year exacerbated those challenges. Although employers expressed mixed opinions on how to fix the immigration system, there is a consensus on a need for more visas.
Immigration policy remains a point of contention for employers, with survey respondents pointing to similar challenges navigating the immigration system as in previous years.
Employers ranked ‘border and consular closures due to COVID-19’ as the biggest pain point in the U.S. immigration application process this year
Q: What are your biggest pain points surrounding the U.S. immigration application process overall? Please rank in order from MOST painful to LEAST painful.
54% of employers said that the lack of visa availability became more challenging under the previous administration
Q: Using the scale provided, please indicate if the following immigration pain points became more or less challenging under the previous administration.
Global mobility now has a seat at the table as employers build new strategies to place talent unable to secure U.S. work authorization and prepare for the return of outbound assignments.
Despite concerns in 2020 that the widespread adoption of remote work, increased comfort with digital collaboration and virtual meeting tools would decrease the need for outbound travel, employers in our survey expect global mobility to continue to play a significant role in their organization.
68% of employers expect the demand for outbound immigration work to increase once global travel can safely resume, and another 24% expect it to return to prior levels
Q: Once global travel can safely resume, do you anticipate the demand for outbound immigration work at your organization to:
The most important factors driving this increase cited by employers were the need to place high-skilled talent for whom they had been unable to secure U.S. work authorization and to support expansion into new locations, which is in line with pre-pandemic priorities listed by employers in last year’s survey.
Future top drivers of outbound immigration work include placing talent unable to secure U.S. work authorization and opening or expanding new locations
Q: If your organization plans to resume global travel, what do you anticipate being the primary drivers or reasons for the increase in your outbound (non-U.S.) immigration? Please rank all that apply from MOST important to LEAST important.
Post-pandemic, companies are eyeing international expansion not just to open new markets and access additional talent pools, but explicitly as an alternative to placing foreign nationals in the U.S. Among the alternatives to the U.S., Canada remains a primary destination.
Despite North American border closures, immigration still remains a strategic priority for Canada, and the country still remains of interest to employers looking to source or place talent and expand internationally. The Canadian Parliament this year announced plans to welcome 401,000 new permanent residents to the country in 2021 as it seeks to rebuild the economy and foster innovation post-pandemic.
57% of employers are considering Canada for expansion or already have an office in the country
Q: Are you considering Canada for your company’s expansion?
55% of employers are considering Canada primarily as part of their talent acquisition strategy
Q: What is your company’s primary reason for considering Canada?
With no sign of a reduction in the demand for foreign talent, an anticipated rebound in global travel and the most distributed workforce in history, employers have recognized the importance of partners built to handle a complicated and rapidly changing mobility landscape.
2020 and the conditions created by the pandemic exacerbated many existing challenges of managing internal immigration processes, from communication with attorneys and foreign nationals, to keeping documents and paperwork together and ensuring compliance. Furthermore, in a year that saw 48 policy changes from the onset of the pandemic, employers cited lack of predictability as their top pain point, followed by fees and the process of preparing visa applications/petitions.
Employers rank the lack of predictability, government and legal fees and the process of preparing visa applications/petitions as top pain points in managing their U.S. immigration program
Q: What are your biggest pain points around managing your company’s U.S. immigration program? Please rank in order from MOST painful to LEAST painful.
Tracking employee locations, document collection and communicating with foreign nationals were the three biggest challenges for employers exacerbated by operating remotely
Q: If your organization was or is currently operating remotely, what were/are the three biggest challenges surrounding your immigration program which were exacerbated by the remote work?
Even amid a year of upheaval, access to foreign talent remained critical for employers in 2020. Organizations invested more time and resources in navigating the challenging conditions created by COVID-19 pandemic, and sought tools and partners to help streamline the increasingly complex process of securing work authorization for foreign nationals.
As the economy recovers and business activity speeds up through 2021, immigration will play an even more important role in ensuring companies can manage their workforce needs. With a new administration in office, there are also new opportunities for long-due reforms to the U.S. immigration system that would benefit employers and foster innovation in a post-pandemic world.
The purpose of the 2021 Immigration Trends Report is to provide HR managers, talent acquisition teams, CHROs and CEOs with information and resources to help them benchmark their immigration programs and improve internal processes. In doing so, we hope to empower them to develop, implement and scale a global mobility program that will attract and top tier talent.
The national survey was conducted online by Lucid from March 2nd to March 18, 2021, with 529 HR professionals and hiring managers participating across a variety of industries and company sizes. Each respondent is a U.S. resident, 21+ in age and involved in hiring decisions at their company. Their companies have experience in either the visa or green card application process and they are familiar with sourcing foreign nationals for employment. Questions covered internal and external global immigration processes and challenges. Questions relating to green cards were limited to the 390 respondents who indicated that they had direct experience handling them at their organization. Similarly, the international (outbound) immigration questions were limited to the 313 respondents who confirmed experience in that area.
Founded in 1998, Envoy is a global immigration services provider offering the only immigration management platform that makes it seamless for companies to hire and manage an international workforce. By combining access to top-tier legal representation—for both inbound and non-U.S. immigration—and proprietary technology, Envoy empowers companies to acquire the best talent regardless of where they live, while simultaneously managing their entire global workforce and enabling employees to take advantage of business opportunities around the globe. Envoy serves over 1,000 customers ranging from high-growth startups to Fortune 50 corporations.
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