Representatives from the technology industry will warn Congress this week that the increased popularity of remote work could result in losing some technology jobs to others countries if the U.S. fails to bring in more high-skilled immigrants.
Remote technology jobs rose by more than 420% between January 2020 and last month, according to regional tech council group Tecna, which noted that the increase in remote jobs was only escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 22% of tech jobs were listed as remote in February, a significant increase over the 4.4% from January 2020.
"The level of remote tech positions that are open is drastically higher than it was prepandemic," Tecna CEO Jennifer Grundy said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "That means workers can live anywhere in the U.S., but it also unfortunately opens the door to more outsourcing—workers staying in India, in China, or moving to places like Canada that have more flexible immigration policies."
Under the H1-B program, the U.S. accepts 65,000 skilled-worker visas each year, and another 20,000 for those with graduate degrees from American universities. Yet, despite a drastic increase in technology industry jobs, these number have not risen since 2005.
Meanwhile, Canada does not have a limit on the number of visas for technology workers and entrepreneurs, making it an appealing destination to Indian, Chinese and Eastern European workers who have been unable to obtain a U.S. visa.
Toronto has added more than 81,000 technology jobs since 2016, the most of any North American city, according to a 2021 report from CBRE Group, a U.S. commercial real estate services and investment firm.
The U.S. unemployment rate for technology industry jobs was 1.3% in March, the lowest it has been in nearly three years and about one-third of the national unemployment rate, according to data from the Computing Technology Industry Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many within the technology industry are in need of workers and say that turning away immigrants over the visa cap puts the nation's reputation as a leader in technology and innovation at stake.
"There is tremendous frustration, which I share, among tech companies that have been asking us to improve the system for more years than I can count, and nothing has been able to move," Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren said, according to The WSJ. Lofgren is chairwoman of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee and her district includes Silicon Valley.
"Ultimately, this could hurt the U.S. economy," she continued. "There’s no rule that Silicon Valley is always going to have the tech crown."
The pandemic has prompted U.S. technology companies to be more flexible when it comes to hiring remote workers if it means acquiring the talent they need.
Immigration reform advocates say that this means allowing workers to remain in their home countries or relocating them to English-speaking countries with more relaxed immigration policies to avoid having to compete for H1-B visas.
"There’s still a desire for the employer to have their employees in the U.S., but if that’s not possible, they will hire talent and place them where they are able to work productively," National Foundation for American Policy executive director Stuart Anderson told The WSJ. "What the pandemic has shown is that remote work in another country can be a productive option."