A Chipmaker’s Visa: Addressing the Semiconductor Industry’s Talent Shortage

The US is facing a worrisome semiconductor talent shortage that must be addressed. According to Deloitte, “the US chip talent shortage is estimated at 70,000 to 90,000 workers over the next few years.” Additionally, by 2030 the global semiconductor workforce will be short of “more than one million additional skilled workers.” Today, the US utilizes the H-1B visa system to employ foreign workers into specialty occupations. This system has a few flaws, however, that have proven to being counter-productive for the semiconductor industry. Some of these challenges, per Semiconductor Engineering, include:

  • Lottery System: A lottery system that does not prioritize specific attributes or distributes visas to industries on a demand basis.
  • Low Total Cap: The total annual allocation allows for 65,000 H-1B visas for undergraduate degree holders, 20,000 H-1B visas for those who hold graduate degrees.
  • Disencouraging Recent Graduates: Many engineering graduates from US universities who do not win the H-1B lottery face several challenges when attempting to stay in the US.
  • Turning Away Talent: There is a 7% cap of H-1B visas for individual countries, which harms workers coming from countries with larger populations such as India or China. Thus, the US loses out on talent.
  • Lack of Options: The window to find a new job for an H-1B visa holder is only 60 days. This gives visa-holders few options and adds a tremendous amount of stress to them. They must leave if they cannot find employment during that 60-day window.
  • Inconvenient Processes: Renewing an H-1B visa requires holders to leave the country.

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) has proposed a “Chipmaker’s Visa” that aims to tackle these deficiencies and address the semiconductor industry’s talent shortage. At its core, the proposal is to boost CHIPS and Science Act investments with targeted immigration reform. The EIG states “the ideal approach to US skilled immigration policy would be to prioritize immigrants who have the highest earning potential rather than attempt to admit people based on a bureaucratic assessment of which skills or occupations are facing ‘shortages.’” Taking a more hands-off approach is recommended by the EIG, as US policy is typically more decentralized amongst similar issues.

The Chipmaker’s Visa proposes that the US authorizes 10,000 new visas specifically for the semiconductor industry per year over a 10-year period; 2,500 new visas would be awarded per quarter. Qualifying firms would participate in auctions to acquire these visas and would compete for top talent from US universities and foreign countries. The new system would also allow businesses more chances to sponsor and hire foreign workers. This enables them to select workers with particular skillsets and scale up production. Furthermore, an expedited pathway to a Green Card, free from hurdles and country caps, would be made available. The proposed Chipmaker’s Visa would also be longer, spanning five years, with the ability of being renewed and would emphasize skills and experience over degrees. More details of the proposed Chipmaker’s Visa can be found here.

Policy changes must be made to combat the looming semiconductor workforce shortage issues. In addition to fostering domestic talent, the US must lean on foreign talent to address this challenge. The EIG’s Chipmaker’s Visa is a welcome first-step in doing so.


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