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Guest Workers Help to Fill the Skills Gap in NH

With today’s unemployment levels, it’s hard to imagine that New Hampshire companies are still hiring guest workers from abroad.

NHPR’s Sam Evans-Brown reports that even in a flooded labor market, skilled immigrants continue to plug a gaping hole in the New Hampshire economy.

Universal Software is an IT consulting firm with branches all around the world.

SFX: Office Ambiance

Its Nashua offices are quiet, with plenty of empty cubicles waiting to be filled.

While New Hampshire’s unemployment is lower than the national average, the recession simply isn’t bringing qualified people into these jobs.

Shah: We have, about, I would say more than thirty to forty positions available.

Bavesh Shah is director of Human Resources,

Shah: We have about seventy to eighty people currently on H-1B, We are an H-1B dependent company.

About half of Universal Software’s jobs are filled by skilled foreign workers who come on temporary H-1B visas.

Shah himself came to the USA on a skilled worker visa, before applying for a green card with the help of his employer.

Universal Software is trying to hire Americans for these jobs.

They even pay recruiters to hunt for candidates.

Shah: They are expert in hiring local talents, but when they cannot find local talents that fit the requirements, at that time we open these positions to H-1B workers too.

Shah says that he would much rather bring on a native programmer, because applying for a guest visa isn’t cheap.

Most companies need the help of an immigration attorney to complete the process.

John Wilson is one such attorney, with GoffWilson law.

Wilson: As a round number, maybe the average is around 6,000 dollars, and you get the person for 1-3 years. You can renew it again, for another 6,000 dollars or more.

Helping a guest worker get a green card can cost 8 to 10 thousand dollars.

Wilson: These are not amounts of money that any US company wants to pay. They would rather have the US worker walk in the door and they can hire them.

So why don’t they?

There simply aren’t enough Americans who know how to do the jobs that employers need done.

Since 1991 skilled foreign workers have been plugging this gaping hole in the US economy.

That hole persists, despite the best efforts of the Department of Labor.

The fees that visa applicants pay go into a big pot, and the Labor Department takes those dollars, and gives them out in the form of grants for training programs.

Manchester Community College got one of those grants this fall, nearly 5 million dollars, and will use it to fund classes in healthcare, like this one.

SFX: MCC nursing class. (you’re gonna remove all the lines…)

David Flint associate VP of Academic Affairs says community colleges are plugged in to the needs of local industries.

Flint: We try to turn on a dime when the need is expressed to us, and that’s exciting, it’s really exciting to be a part of that.

The new MCC program will target the long-term unemployed, disadvantaged communities, and workers who are beginning to age out of their jobs.

It will train, or re-train, them with definite skills from radiology, to healthcare information technology.

But whether or not a program like this can actually reduce the number of H-1B visas needed in New Hampshire is an open question.

According to Department of Labor statistics, of the nearly one thousand visas certified for New Hampshire in 2010, only eighty-one were in healthcare, while over five hundred were in computer system design

Flint says these jobs might not be big drivers of demand now, but they will be down the road.

Flint: One of our hospitals is expecting approximately 30% of its registered nurses to retire in the near future. So the story is very compelling.

Be that as it may H-1Bs require at least a baccalaureate degree.

In other words, federal grants to training programs aren’t a big enough patch to cover the skills gap, not by a long shot.

Both Wilson and HR man Bavesh Shah say that for now, the choice is clear: either let skilled foreigners come to the US, or watch jobs go abroad.

Shah: Can you just imagine that if we did not bring this H-1B worker, where are these jobs going? Have you ever thought about it? These jobs are going to India! 

Shah says New Hampshire is part of a global economy, where jobs and workers move more or less fluidly across rigid political borders.

And until the education system adapts to the needs of today’s labor market, skilled guest workers are the best alternative we’ve got.

For NHPR News, I’m Sam Evans-Brown

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