For weeks, we’ve watched the nonstop images flowing out of Ukraine; they break our collective hearts. We donate money, update our social media profiles to show our support, attend rallies, and put up signs in our windows and yards. But none of it feels adequate; none of it alleviates the suffering we see unfolding every day. Even though the Biden administration recently announced new policies for humanitarian parole for Ukrainians, we learned from the Afghan experience that this option comes with a set of challenges, not the least of which are the many months it takes to process such relief.
But not all solutions have to come from the government. There’s an opportunity here for U.S. employers to take action that could have a direct impact on the lives of Ukrainians. Industry leaders can come together using our existing immigration laws, as inadequate as they are, to create dynamic solutions that could not only save lives but help the U.S. economy, as well.
Here’s how it would work.
Many people may be aware of the H-1B visa lottery that issues cap-subject employment-based visas once a year, beginning in March. It’s a popular form of visa used in almost every industry by Fortune 500 companies as well as small startups to hire foreign skilled professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree.
But the program, with its annual cap, is inadequate for addressing U.S. employment needs. This year the USCIS received close to 500,000 applications. Only 85,000 visas are available each year. Obviously, the math doesn’t work.
But there’s a lesser-known option within this program that can be used to address the Ukrainian challenge. It involves the cap-exempt category of H-1B visas reserved for nonprofit organizations that have higher education affiliations or are research organizations. This category of H-1Bs also extends to organizations that require their employees to work at colleges and universities, and other qualifying entities. Such H-1B applications can be filed at any time during the year and can be relatively quick to receive.
In these cases, the employer must show proof of their nonprofit status and higher-education affiliation, but the rest of the application is similar to any other H-1B application, including that there is a position available that requires a degree and the potential employee has that degree. I believe business leaders can come together and join forces with cap-exempt organizations to make these visas available to qualified Ukrainians now.
Ukraine has one of the top startup ecosystems in Europe. Grammarly, for example, an online grammar and spell-check platform, is a U.S.-based Ukrainian company that is recognized around the globe. Its Ukrainian employees are among the talented professionals who are now likely displaced. The U.S. could absolutely benefit from such talented professionals.
U.S. business leaders can form a coalition to create an immigration-friendly ecosystem to provide employment for this population, while also helping each other.
If you are a business leader who wants to have an impact, it’s time to think outside of the box. Let’s talk.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.