Not All Brown People Need H1-B Visas: Immigration and Cognitive Bias

Laurie Ruettimann Bad HR, Immigration, Laurie Ruettimann

Not all Asian people are STEM workers. Not every brown person needs an H1-B visa. And not every black guy plays basketball. I know, I know. Sounds condescending. Except I worked in Human Resources and I’ve been where some of you are — explaining tha

t Ernesto Perez “has his papers” and wants to work in the accounting department and not the cafeteria.

So when I read the , I was reminded, once again, that working in Human Resources can be a complex and thankless job.

Some companies failed to pay H-1B workers. Others failed to follow proper E-verify procedures. And some HR departments weren’t prepared for an ICE raid.

Shoot me, please. Make it fast.

Business owners and Human Resources professionals can do better when it comes to immigration; however, many of the most common immigration-related mistakes are rooted less in process and more in cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

So here are my top three immigration mistakes that employers and HR professionals make regardless of what year it is:

  1. Assuming someone is an immigrant in the first place. As Human Resources professionals, it is our responsibility to avoid lumping candidates to the role of “recent immigrant” based on a name. Beata Andrzejewski. Cesar Marquez. Lien Phan. What do you see when you see their names? If you tell me that racial and ethnic bias doesn’t happen in the hiring process — and that I’m creating a straw man — I’ll tell you that you really don’t work in Human Resources.
  2. Assuming a certain ethnicity relates to a job function. Really great HR technology can help identify qualified candidates and sort out eligibility requirements before a resume appears in a recruiter’s inbox; however, most recruiters and business owners don’t have access to recruitment technology. They use their guts — and their guts are sorta ignorant. Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani grew up in South Carolina and doesn’t work in IT. Maz Jobrani is a stand-up comedian and not a nuclear engineer. And Kanekoa Texeira sounds like a cool guy who could work in your genetics lab, but he’s from Maui and plays baseball. What assumptions do you and your leadership team make during the sourcing and screening process?
  3. Assuming that immigration will solve the war for STEM talent. Accenture notes that China, India and Brazil are producing more STEM talent than the US, the UK and Japan. America isn”t developing enough geeks, but legal immigration is only part of the complex approach to addressing the talent shortage. I like what IGN and CodeFoo are doing to infuse training and development into the hiring process. “Six weeks of tech training @ign working on real engineering projects with cutting-edge tech. Blow our minds while you’re here and we’ll hire you. No kidding.”

So before you freak out rethink your whole entire I-9 process, which is probably appropriate and necessary at your organization, might I suggest that you take stock of your own biases?

If you demonstrate both good judgment and good intent during the entire employment life cycle, and you are actively battling against the myths of immigration, you stand a better shot of getting the compliance-related process issues under control.

You will also hire and manage immigrants the right way, which is what your company actually pays you to do. Anything less is an abject failure on your part.