How Tech Companies Can Counter the Great American Brain Drain

President Trump’s infamous travel ban may have been revised, but it has done little to reassure the tech industry. Further, while the temporary suspension of premium processing of H1-B visas continues, there’re also several bills pending to revise the current H1-B visa program.

These reforms hope to more than double the current minimum salary requirement to $130,000 and this can potentially be a brick wall for tech startups trying to access the best minds from around the world. Further, people already working in North America on an H1-B visa may not be able to renew it.

Every year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been issuing around 85,000 H1-B visas for the best talent around. Out this number, 86% hail from India, 5% from China, and 1% from Canada. So it’s no surprise that this announcement saw the stocks of Indian IT outsourcing companies tumble:

  • Tata Consultancy Services dropped by 5.46%
  • Infosys fell by 4.57%
  • Wipro plunged by 4.11%
  • Tech Mahindra fell by 9.68%
  • HCL Technologies tumbled by 6.25%

So what’s possibly going to happen now is a major brain drain in the tech industry (and we really have to prepare for it). There’s talk of more protests and legal action, but this does not provide a quick fix to the problem. As a result, those who come up with the best solution quickly have a better chance of remaining competitive in the marketplace.

Further, highly qualified leaders and contributors can all get poached by another country (and emerging economy) desperate to fill the skills gap. Countries like Japan have a skills gap that’s exasperated by an aging workforce, so the more qualified the candidate is, the easier it will be for them to switch countries or continents.

Countries in Europe, as well as Canada and Australia, have a points based system for obtaining a work permit or permanent residence, so it will be easy for people with advanced degrees and hard-to-find skills to settle down in new pastures.

So what’s the best solution?

1. Move Operations Up North to Canada

Many of the larger media and tech companies (like Facebook and Amazon) already have a presence in Canada (in cities like Vancouver). So it can be really easy for them to just pick up and move their operations up north.

Further, as Canada has now relaxed its immigration policy, these companies will be able to continue to recruit the best talent from around the world. Further, startups also have the flexibility and a great opportunity to relocate because Canada listed as one of the easiest places to start a business, they can do the same.

In fact, Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of the lending startup Affirm, tweeted that "blocking H-1B visa processing, banning countries entirely & removing protections for employees makes Canada look really attractive for tech."

Another factor that can motivate tech companies big and small will be sizable tax breaks offered by various provinces in the country. With Canada shifting its focus to welcome innovators, America’s loss could be a huge gain for the country.

2. Europe is Still a Thriving Continent

Regardless of what’s happening with the EU and Brexit, Europe still maintains its position as a thriving and highly desirable economic location. Although moving continents might be harder than moving up north to Canada, sometimes you have to counter the brain drain by making some drastic decisions.

Tech leaders have long eyed cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Geneva, Helsinki, Lisbon, London, and Prague. But if Europe is too expensive to move your operations, there are always affordable cities in Eastern Europe (e.g., Kyiv).

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3. Take Advantage of Globalization and Distributed Teams

As remote working increasingly becomes the norm, it won’t be difficult to find the right talent to build efficient distributed teams. Further, if current tech employees cannot get their H1-B visas renewed, you can always ask them to switch to a remote role when they leave.

This could be more attractive for them than moving to another foreign country as they can still earn their wages according to American standards while being close to relatives and friends back home.

At the same time, it’s also good to note that holding on to your best talent may not be easy as you think. The competition will become fierce over the coming months as emerging economies look to attract the best minds with highly competitive remuneration packages.

While there’s still confusion as to what will be the ultimate result of the so-called “Muslim ban” and H1-B reforms, it can seem logical to think that it’s best to wait and see how it plays out. But this could backfire in a major away since the rest of the world is eagerly waiting to take advantage of this situation.

As a result, it’s crucial for tech companies (both large and small) to have multiple plans (A, B, C… Z) in place to respond to the inevitable as best as they can to remain competitive. It’s important as if things go in the direction that they are currently heading in at the moment, other countries will hold the “trump” card over America.

How do you think America’s tech sector should respond to the current reforms to immigration policies? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.   

Andrew Zola is a freelance writer, designer, and artist working in branding and marketing for over ten years. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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