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While worker shortages may seem dubious alongside the current unemployment rate, they are a stark reality for many employers that rely heavily on skilled labor. Employers in the technology, manufacturing and construction sectors, among others, have been struggling to find suitable talent to fill open positions. According to a study conducted by organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, the US is forecast to lose out on $162.25 billion by 2030 due to technology skills shortages, placing the country’s position as the world’s leading tech market at risk. The study anticipates a global deficit of 4.3 million tech workers and 7.9 million manufacturing workers by 2030. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America, a construction industry association, indicates that 80 percent of responding construction firms are having a hard time filling craft positions. In addition to contributing to hiring difficulties, the skilled worker shortage also impacts supply chains by inhibiting some suppliers’ ability to source labor and complete services on schedule.

While there have been longstanding labor shortage concerns due to the need for extremely specialized technology skills, limited enrollment in trade schools and the growing rate of retirement among the baby-boomer generation, two more recent developments exacerbate the current shortage in many roles: COVID-19 (coronavirus)-related travel restrictions and visa policies. A summary of recent Presidential Proclamations (PP) affecting US visa policy is provided below:


In addition to the Presidential Proclamations, President Trump also issued an executive order on August 3 requiring federal agencies to review contractors' use of foreign national workers. These actions are designed to protect American workers by limiting foreign competition for jobs in a time of economic uncertainty; however, many businesses attest that such measures pose an undue burden on operations because much of the labor brought in on work visas cannot easily be replaced by domestic workers. In these cases, businesses are scrambling to locate talent and shore up supply chains.

Steps for Managing Talent Shortages

1. Audit the types of workers and services most impacted 

Businesses must first conduct an audit to determine the types of workers needed and the services most at risk for disruption. Procurement departments should ask about service providers’ reliance on visa workers during negotiations to help assess upstream risk, while human resources departments should analyze which positions visa workers have historically filled in order to better plan for future openings.

2. Diversify contracts 

Once an audit has been conducted, businesses should consider diversifying contracts for services found to be at the highest risk of disruption. Services to consider may include those related to technology or staffing for in-demand positions. With so many businesses competing for domestic talent, working with various recruitment providers may help to identify more candidates.

3. Apply for a National Interest Exception

If sourcing domestic talent isn’t possible, some businesses may have an alternative. PP 10014 and 10052 include exceptions, most notably for individuals whose work is considered in the United States’ national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security or their designees. Businesses seeking exemption should consult with immigration law providers for assistance in applying. The following table indicates potential exceptions by visa type, summarized from the US Department of State official guidance:

4. Train for the positions you can’t source

When exemptions aren’t an option, businesses will need to get creative when it comes to filling positions with scarce talent. While the most common strategies for attracting workers include increasing pay and benefits, businesses should also develop talent from within by strengthening training and workforce development programs to bolster skills. Human resources and hiring managers may benefit from deconstructing the most in-demand positions. Which skills are most important? Are all other qualifications for the position need-to-haves or nice-to-haves? By stripping the work into its components, hiring managers may find that training existing employees or candidates that don’t check every box is more fruitful than chasing unicorns. Moreover, dedication to long-term career advancement may improve employee satisfaction and turnover rates, aiding businesses in retaining the prized talent they cultivate.


By: Michelle Hovanetz

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