Many American companies desire the ability to hire more highly skilled foreign workers. Although there is a strong debate about their reasons – some conservative think tanks say it’s because companies want to cut costs while progressives say it’s to find a complementary workforce to American-trained employees – the truth is that’s it’s already happening.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 15.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, or 24.4 million individuals, were foreign-born.

Here’s some other eye-opening stats:

  • Foreign Born U.S. Residents: The U.S. Census found there are 38.5 million foreign-born U.S. residents, representing 12.5 percent of the population, in October 2010.
  • U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs): The Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) revealed 1,130,818 persons became Legal Permanent Residents of the U.S. in 2009.
  • Unauthorized Immigrants: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants were residing in the U.S. in January 2009.
  • U.S. Citizens Spending Time Abroad: Many U.S. citizens have spent time traveling on vacation or living, working, and attending school in a foreign country.

Most of these foreign employees come to the U.S. on H-1B visas which are issued to temporary, “nonimmigrant” workers in “specialty occupations.” As described by the Congressional Research Service, a “specialty occupation” is one “requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum.”

The Immigration Policy Center compiled a bunch of data on the topic to show how prevalent and important highly-skilled foreign workers are to U.S. companies. Here’s a sampling:

  • A December 2008 study released by the Harvard Business School found that immigrants comprise nearly half of all
    scientists and engineers in the United States who have a doctorate, and accounted for 67 percent of the increase in the U.S. science and engineering workforce between 1995 and 2006.
  • A 2009 study from the Technology Policy Institute found that, in the absence of H-1B and green-card limitations from 2003-2007, foreign graduates of U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, and math fields would have raised the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by about $13.6 billion in 2008, and contributed $2.7 to $3.6 billion in taxes.
  • According to the National Foundation for American Policy, “for every H-1B position requested, U.S. technology companies increase their employment by 5 workers,” on average, the following year. For technology companies with fewer than 5,000 employees, “each H-1B position requested in labor condition applications was associated with an increase of employment of 7.5 workers.”

It is also true, however, that companies who want to bring foreign nationals into their fold need to exercise caution and be as conservative in their backgrounding of these employees as they would be of American workers. One of the major reasons for this is because the stuff a foreign worker lists on their resume may be foreign to American employers. You may not be familiar with the name of their university. Or their prior places of employment. Certification names may differ. Salary claims may vary widely. And, criminal complaints may be recorded in an entirely different fashion in other countries. It’s for all of these reasons that American companies need to protect themselves from any intelligence pitfalls when it comes to hiring H-1B workers.

Due to the mobility of workers across international borders in a global economy, employers need to screen applicants outside of the United States. Employers face varying risks and challenges when conducting international screenings. Active Screening is proud to offer specialized services that span the globe with solutions for International Background Checks. Even better, our team of experts understands the many ways in which background screening overseas differs from our domestic policies and can help you fill in any gaps of potential hires.

We encourage you to speak to one of our experts who can help you navigate this complex issue. Give us a call today at 1-800-319-5580.

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