Immigration Trends 2021: Six Insights from Envoy Global

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

See what we learned from employers about immigration, global mobility and more in our sixth annual Immigration Trends Report 

Envoy’s 2021 Immigration Trends Report is out now! We asked more than 500 HR professionals and hiring managers what they learned following an unprecedented year for hiring, immigration and global travelThis year, we also asked about the immigration reforms they’d like to see addressed and their expectations for immigration and mobility in a post-pandemic world. 

Six immigration and mobility trends from this year’s report 

1. Employer demand for foreign talent persisted despite challenging conditions, immigration restrictions and more widespread adoption of remote work. 

Visa sponsorship remains an important talent acquisition strategy for employers despite travel restrictions and an economic slowdown in 2020. In our survey, 82% of respondents said that they expect their foreign national headcount to at least remain the same over the next year, and 59% expect it to increase. In addition, 41% said the widespread adoption of remote work will result in more foreign national sponsorship, largely due to what they said was a still constrained supply of talent.  

2. More employers are sponsoring green cards to provide foreign national employees with the peace of mind that comes with permanent residency in an uncertain time. 

Amid increased immigration scrutiny and economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, employers continue to leverage green card sponsorship as an acquisition and retention tool.  Seventy-four percent of respondents in this year’s survey said their organization has sponsored a foreign national for a green card, up from 71% in 2020 and the largest number reported than in any previous year. Faced with large backlogs for approval, particularly for applicants from India and China, 58% of employers also told us they initiate the green carprocess before an employee’s first anniversary. 

3. Although employers hold mixed opinions on how to fix the U.S. immigration system, there is a consensus on a need for increased visa availability. 

Immigration policy remains a point of contention for employers: 54% of respondents said that the lack of visa availability became more challenging under the previous administration and 52% pointed to increased costs. Fifty-two percent also pointed to case processing as well as wait times for green cards, amid a current green card backlog of 1.2 million applicants as of November 2020. Moving forward, employers cite quicker processing times and increasing the number of green cards and visa options available for employment-based immigration as the most important reforms they would like addressed. However, support for changing or eliminating per-country green card caps was mixed, with 48% of employers saying it would make hiring and retention easier, and 32% who said the opposite. 

4. Global travel will bounce back, and employers expect demand for outbound (non-U.S.) immigration work to rebound in 2021. 

Despite speculation that remote work and virtual meeting tools could curb the return of outbound travel, 92% of employers in our survey anticipate the demand for outbound (non-U.S.) assignments to at least return to pre-pandemic levels, and 68% think it will increase beyond those levels once travel can safely resume. Employers said the factors driving this demand are the need to support expansion into new locations and place high-skilled talent unable to secure U.S. work authorization. 

5. Canada remains a top destination for employers not just to open new markets and access additional talent pools, but explicitly as an alternative to U.S. placements. 

Despite persistent North American border closures due to the pandemic, Canada is still of particular interest to U.S. employers, with 57% of respondents reporting that they are either considering Canada for expansion or already have an office there. For 65% of employers, this was primarily to access or place Canadian and foreign-born talent, and another 37% cited expansion into the Canadian market as their primary driver. Similar to previous years, employers cited the larger quantity of visas available and better permanent residency processes as the most favorable aspects of Canadian immigration policy. A recent study from Boston Consulting Group found that Canada has replaced the U.S. as a top destination for talent, which supports the employer sentiment in our survey findings. 

6. Employers are looking for the right partners to help them navigate the immigration landscape after an unprecedented year for policy changes and travel restrictions. 

2020 and the conditions created by the pandemic exacerbated many existing challenges of managing internal immigration processes. For employers operating remotely, the most frequently cited challenge was tracking employee locations, followed by communicating with foreign nationals, document collection and collaboration between attorneys, foreign nationals and HR teams. These responses underscore the need to further digitize elements of the immigration process and find partners that can offer the right technology. For employers evaluating their immigration provider, awareness of emerging technologies and customer experience provided to HR teams rank as primary catalysts, even above cost. 

Download the full Immigration Trends Report for even more insights on how organizations across the U.S. are approaching their immigration and mobility programs in 2021 and beyond. 

Survey Methodology 

The national survey was conducted online by Lucid from March 2nd to March 18, 2021, with 529 HR professionals and hiring managers participating across a variety of industries and company sizes. Each respondent is a U.S. resident, 21+ in age and involved in hiring decisions at their company. Their companies have experience in either the visa or green card application process and they are familiar with sourcing foreign nationals for employment. Questions covered internal and external global immigration processes and challenges. Questions relating to green cards were limited to the 390 respondents who indicated that they had direct experience handling them at their organization. Similarly, the international (outbound) immigration questions were limited to the 313 respondents who confirmed experience in that area. 

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.