Globalized engineering requires an immigration strategy

In recent years, a number of factors have played a role in the increasing globalization of the engineering industry. Many feel a key driver is the economic advantages global companies can realize from offshoring. Others point to a reduction of engineers graduating from U.S. universities, although some question the existence of an actual shortage.


In recent years, a number of factors have played a role in the increasing globalization of the engineering industry. Many feel a key driver is the economic advantages global companies can realize from offshoring. Others point to a reduction of engineers graduating from U.S. universities, although some question the existence of an actual shortage. More relevant may be a degradation of math and science education in the K-12 grades. According to a Duke University study, “even if the nation did everything possible to address these shortcomings, it will probably take 10 to 15 years before major benefits become apparent.”

Regardless, engineering talent today is increasingly pulled from an international pool. Whether it’s via multinational locations, international design teams or outsourced development assignments, foreign-born engineers will continue to play a crucial role in the engineering industry of the United States. Although navigating the immigration process remains a significant challenge, and securing visas for foreign nationals can be met with many obstacles, options do exist for building a global workforce.

The H-1B visa, designed for applicants qualified to fill a specialty occupation on a temporary basis, is the most well-known temporary visa. The annual mandated cap of 65,000 available visas has made it a less viable option in recent years, because this quota is typically met on the first day of the filing period.

A number of alternatives to the H-1B visa exist, however, and some are processed much more quickly. An understanding of all options will extend an organization’s ability to fill temporary engineering positions throughout the year, and is critical for those companies wanting to compete for the top talent on a global level. Options include the following:

  • TN: The TN visa, based on the North American Free Trade Agreement, is available only to Canadian and Mexican professionals coming to the U.S. to perform professional activities. The TN visa was recently extended from a one-year to a three-term, and can also be renewed indefinitely. There is no cap on the number of TN visas allotted.

  • L-1: Similar to the H-1B, the L-1 visa allows companies to hire foreign employees on a temporary basis with the ability to provide permanent residency. The L-1 visa is available if a company is affiliated with a foreign operation, in which a foreign national is coming to the U.S. for a managerial or executive level position. To be eligible, employees must have worked for the foreign company for at least one of the last three years.

  • O-1: The O-1 visa is designed for applicants in business and science fields exhibiting extraordinary ability within their industry. An O-1 visa holder is admitted to the United States for the duration of an activity, which may include an academic year or business or scientific project.

  • E Visa: This category is available for foreign nationals from countries that signed the Friendship, Commerce, Navigation (FCN) treaty. The E-2 visa can be used for engineers that are citizens of FCN treaty countries that have made a significant investment within the US, while the E-3 is specifically for citizens of the Australia intending to work in a specific, skilled job.

As more companies recruit specialized foreign workers, the H-1B visa will likely continue to rise in demand. Employers within the engineering field will be challenged to determine when international resources present the best fit be it on a project basis or to meet ongoing staffing needs. Either way, it’s clear that the continued globalization of the industry requires a strategic review of the available immigration options to ensure ongoing competitiveness in the new international marketplace.

Author Information

Robert Meltzer is CEO of VisaNow, an electronic-based immigration service provider. He can be reached at .

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