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Navigating the labor shortage: U.S. work visa options for skilled workers

21 Nov

Like many cities across the U.S., Houston has been experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in many industries, including energy, health care, education and technology. This shortage has impacted businesses, slowed supply chains and economic growth, and is here to stay long-term due to several factors including early retirements and The Great Resignation. Until there are effective long-term solutions in place, one possible solution is for employers to consider leveraging work visas to fill the labor gap.


How work visas can help

Employers can meet their workforce needs by using various work visa options that would allow qualified foreign skilled workers and professionals to temporarily fill critical positions in the U.S.

1. Talent attraction and economic growth: Work visas allow Houston employers to tap into a global talent pool. Employers in most industries can supplement their existing workforce by hiring skilled workers with the expertise needed to quickly close skills gaps that otherwise would require years of training to bridge. This approach can help businesses accelerate their hiring processes, maintain their competitiveness and ensure continued growth. Skilled foreign professionals contribute not only to their industries but also to local communities through taxes, jobs creation and consumer spending.

2. Workforce development: Skilled foreign workers bring diverse perspectives and experiences from abroad, fostering innovation and knowledge sharing within Houston’s industries. Leveraging diversity in this way contributes to Houston’s global competitiveness with advancements in technology, health care and services. It also stimulates workforce development initiatives for domestic workers to acquire new in-demand skills and education.

Key U.S. work visa options for U.S. employers

1. H-1B Visa – specialty occupation workers: The H-1B visa is one of the most familiar U.S. work visas and is intended for skilled professionals in specialty occupations in any industry, including engineering, technology, health care and finance. While it can be a relatively quick process to transfer an existing H-1B worker who is already working for another U.S. employer, there is an annual numerical cap and randomized lottery process for workers applying for an H-1B visa for the first time. Since 2005, demand for H-1B visas have exceeded the annual cap of 65,000 visas plus an additional 20,000 for individuals with a graduate degree from a U.S. academic institution.

2. F-1 Visa – international students: F-1 students, particularly graduates of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree programs, may be a useful option for tough-to-fill, entry-level positions in science and engineering. A STEM graduate who will work for an E-Verify participating employer is eligible for up to three years of work authorization as an F-1 student before an H-1B visa would be needed.

3. L-1 Visa – intracompany transferees: The L-1 visa is available for multinational companies to transfer their managers, executives and specialized knowledge professional employees from their foreign offices to a U.S. office to support and enhance their U.S. operations. This application process is also relatively quick and can be initiated anytime as there is no annual quota.

4. O Visa – extraordinary ability or achievement: The O visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics fields and can demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim through a variety of criteria. The individual must be seeking to enter the U.S. for purposes of continuing work in the field of extraordinary ability.

5. TN Visa – USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement) professionals: The TN visa is available to Canadian and Mexican professionals who qualify under the United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement (USMCA), which covers various professions, including engineers, economists and medical professionals.

Similar treaty-based work visas are available to Australian professionals (E-3 visa) and Chilean or Singaporean professionals (H-1B1 visa).

6. H-2B Visa – temporary non-agricultural workers: Under the H-2B visa program, U.S. employers may bring foreign nationals to fill temporary, short-term non-agricultural jobs in a variety of industries such as construction, landscaping and hospitality. The multistep H-2B program has an annual numerical cap, and visas may only be approved for nationals of certain countries.

7. EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Visas: For workers who may not readily qualify for a temporary work visa, there are immigrant visa options available in the EB-2 Second Preference Employment-Based category for individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability and in the EB-3 Third Preference Employment-Based category for skilled workers, professionals and other workers. Immigrant visas are long-term options for permanent residency (“green card”) that are subject to annual quotas and involve multiple steps over a lengthier period of time.

As the shortage of skilled workers in the Houston labor market continues, work visas are a viable solution to bridge this gap by attracting qualified skilled workers and professionals from around the world. By embracing the potential of work visas, employers can ensure their businesses continue to thrive as labor market demands continue to evolve.

For 50 years, Foster LLP has been helping employers with all different types of work visas and permanent residence options worldwide. Foster also helps investors, individuals and families with their immigration needs. For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit


Written by : 

Helene N. Dang is a partner at Foster LLP in the Houston office and is board certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.