May 28, 2024

Unlike other parts of the tech industry, the artificial intelligence sector is struggling to find the right recruits, and now a major tech company is asking the U.S. government to update its immigration policies to not lose out on AI talent.

Google has sent the Department of Labor a letter seen by Quartz stating that immigration policies such as Schedule A — a list of “pre-certified” occupations with a shortage of U.S. workers — need to be modernized to include AI and cybersecurity, to keep up with demand for those workers.

“There’s wide recognition that there is a global shortage of talent in AI, but the fact remains that the US is one of the harder places to bring talent from abroad, and we risk losing out on some of the most highly sought-after people in the world,” Karan Bhatia, head of government affairs and public policy at Google, told The Verge. He added that Schedule A’s list of occupations hasn’t been updated in two decades.

Physical therapists, professional nurses, and other “immigrants of exceptional ability in the sciences or arts, including college and university teachers, and immigrants of exceptional ability in the performing arts,” comprise Schedule A’s occupation list.

Companies who hire non-U.S. employees can apply for permanent residencies, or green cards, for their workers, and they are required by the Labor Department to get a permanent labor certification, or PERM, showing that the role has a shortage of workers.

Google said in its letter that updating Schedule A would reduce the processing time for a green card. Schedule A, Google said, “is not currently serving its intended purpose,” in regards to the shortage of AI talent.

The tech giant is also urging the government to regularly update Schedule A to keep up with talent demands in other industries through a “data-driven, transparent process for reviewing and modifying the list.”

Bhatia told The Verge the U.S. tech industry is experiencing a shortage of AI specialists, and the country’s immigration policies have made it difficult to attract AI talent from abroad. Some employees at Google have even had to leave the country while waiting for their green card, he said.

A 2017 Quartz analysis of federal lobbying reports found that Google parent company Alphabet was the only big tech company ramping up lobbying on immigration, citing the “travel ban,” “travel restrictions,” and “travel from countries of concern,” under former President Donald Trump’s “America-First” immigration policies.

The U.S. sued Elon Musk’s SpaceX last August for “routine, widespread, and longstanding” employment discrimination after it refused to hire refugees and asylum recipients. Between September 2018 and May 2022, “SpaceX imposed what amounted to a ban on their hire regardless of their qualification, in violation of federal law,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said.

“SpaceX was told repeatedly that hiring anyone who was not a permanent resident of the United States would violate international arms trafficking law, which would be a criminal offense,” Musk posted on X in response to the DoJ’s lawsuit. “We couldn’t even hire Canadian citizens, despite Canada being part of NORAD! This is yet another case of weaponization of the DOJ for political purposes.”

The AI industry is currently experiencing a talent war, with offers reportedly reaching up to $1 million. Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has even reportedly written personal emails to AI researchers at Google’s DeepMind to convince them to work with him. The company has also reportedly offered jobs to candidates without interviews, and stepped back on its policy of not offering higher salaries to employees with job offers from competitors.

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