U.S. finance chiefs are showing strong support for immigration reform as they struggle with the talent shortage in the United States, according to the latest quarterly Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey.
Eighty-three percent of U.S. CFOs surveyed said they supported expedited granting of green cards to allow foreign graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to work in the United States. Providing expedited work permits (H-1B) for STEM undergraduate students was favored by 82% of survey respondents. Two-thirds of finance chiefs favored increasing the cap on work visas (H-2B) for seasonal and lower skilled immigrant workers.
“In the late stages of a business cycle, it is not unusual for CFOs to be confronted with tight labor markets and face difficulty hiring and retaining top talent,” said Campbell Harvey, a founding director of the survey and Fuqua School of Business finance professor. “However, this time is different. Given the reshaping of the American economy toward tech, there is an acute shortage of qualified labor. CFOs are strongly advocating immigration reform to fill the gap.”
Nearly 80% of respondents said the U.S. government should drop its lottery system in favor of a merit-based immigration policy.
“Some [survey respondents] expressed frustration that qualified workers have to win a visa lottery to be hired long-term, when these workers are needed to fill a talent gap,” said John Graham, a finance professor at Fuqua and director of the survey. “The business community is sending a strong message to lawmakers about the importance of immigration reform.”
But many CFOs were also adamant that existing immigration laws should be enforced. One CFO called for “a fair, efficient system for all candidates regardless of education.” But he also said, “the borders must be secured and benefits and legal protections for illegal immigrants must be eliminated and illegal immigrants must be deported.”
A tight labor market was highlighted in the survey, with 45% of U.S. finance chiefs naming hiring and retaining qualified employees their most-cited concern.
“If the shortage of technologically-oriented talent is not addressed, [it] will stifle innovation, slow growth even further, and winnow away at America’s traditional position of being the world leader in tech,” said Harvey.
The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey concluded June 6 and generated responses from nearly 600 global CFOs.