Types of temporary skilled foreign worker programs

The United States does not have an immigration vision or overarching policy. Rather, it has an elephantine mass of laws including a huge grab bag of visa categories, largely under regulatory capture by special interests. Congress has abetted this state of affairs. One step towards a coherent policy would be to better manage the temporary acceptance of skilled workers. Here, I summarize what is in effect competition among the U.S, Canada, Australia and the U.K. for skilled workers. (Go here for the report from which this a taken.)

Each of these countries has a core program. The U.S. lags in all significant measures of efficiency including longer processing times, significantly higher filing costs, and escalating rates of denial. Australia has the highest temporary admission-to-population ratio at 2.62 skilled workers (new per year) per 1,000 people. Canada has a ratio of 2.52. The U.K. has a ratio of 0.85, and the United States has a ratio of just 0.26 skilled foreign workers per 1,000 people. To bring the U.S. up to 2 per 1,000 persons, that would cause the formal limit per year to go from 85,000 to 600,000. The data broadly suggest that skilled global talent is increasingly choosing to work in Canada and the United Kingdom over Australia and the United States.

United States: H-1B Visa (created in 1990). The H-1B visa program is the primary skills-based work visa program that permits global talent to work in the United States on a temporary basis. The temporary visa is valid for a period of three years from the date of filing with the option to extend for an additional three years. The formal quotas are so shot through with exceptions that it is impossible to estimate the total potential number of new visas per year. The number of requests for evidence (RFEs) since 2016 has increased from 21% of petitions received to 60% in the first three months of 2019. The number of visa denials has increased significantly from 6% to 26%.

Australia Subclass 457 (482) The Australian temporary work (skilled) visa, also known as subclass 457, was created in 1996 after a government report recommended that the entry of skilled workers be simplified and streamlined to bolster the Australian economy. The temporary work visa authorizes skilled immigrants, accompanied by their immediate families, to work in Australia for approved employers for a periodof up to four years. The program has no numerical cap.

United Kingdom: Tier 2 Visa. Established in 2008 to replace the provisions of work permit employment, the Tier 2 visa program covers skilled workers with an offer of employment from a UK-based employer. Similar to Australia’s temporary work visa, Tier 2 is a points-based system whereby points are awarded based on educational qualifications, future expected earnings, English language proficiency, company sponsorship, and funds available (to support oneself ).


Canada: Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program. Created in 1973, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) allows Canadian businesses to employ foreign nationals to fill temporary labor and skill shortages for up to four years. The program was initially intended for high-skilled workers but has been expanded to include low-skilled workers. In order to hire a foreign worker, employers require approval from the government to ensure that the foreign national possesses in-demand skills.15 The International Mobility Program (IMP), on the other hand, does not require such permission, so it is subject to a far simpler and quicker hiring process.

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