(Bloomberg) — Chicago is trying to attract a large number of foreign workers laid off by technology giants, while companies in the city and its suburbs look to lure top talent and fill thousands of open positions.
More than 35 companies in the Chicago area are willing to hire employees with an H-1B visa, which is issued to foreign workers in specialty occupations such as software engineering. The companies are teaming up with the city and P33, a nonprofit founded by former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, to build a job posting website that will debut Wednesday.
The initiative is the first of its kind and could bolster Chicago’s ambition to become a technology hub. It will also help businesses including Caterpillar Inc (NYSE:)., Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:) Inc., credit rating agency TransUnion (NYSE:) and ticket seller Vivid Seats Inc., to fill the more than 400,000 vacant positions in Illinois.
“We really need talent,” said TransUnion Chief Executive Officer Chris Cartwright. “We want to get the message out that there is a very attractive tech community here in Chicago. It is vibrant and dynamic. They are both established players as well as an emerging startup space, and we welcome those employees.”
Technology companies, including Google’s parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ:) Inc., Meta Platforms Inc (NASDAQ: )., Twitter Inc (NYSE:). and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:). all have announced layoffs for fear of global economic growth. Last year, the tech industry announced 97,171 layoffs, more than 600% more than a year earlier and the most of any industry, according to HR consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
Foreign workers in particular have been hit hard by the job losses. Those on an H-1B visa have just 60 days to find a new position and convince employers to sponsor their visa. According to Don Garner, president of the LL.M Law Group, which focuses on immigration issues, the process can cost companies $5,000 to $10,000 more than hiring a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
The idea of helping foreign workers first came about when Brad Henderson, CEO of P33, attended a dinner held by the American India Foundation late last year. “The buzz in the room was the real concern their community was feeling around the H-1B visa issues and the sheer numbers of layoffs,” he recalled.
Working with World Business Chicago, an economic development organization chaired by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Henderson began talking to CEOs, lawyers, and human resources specialists to find out if anything could be done about it.
The city’s leading civic organizations, such as the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Executives’ Club of Chicago, the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, and 1871, a nonprofit small business incubator founded by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, a brother by Penny Pritzker, also participated.
Race against the clock
“The whole immigration system needs to be reformed, and there are many challenges,” Henderson said. “But in this particular case, the good news was, we could do this.”
Initial listings on the career site total about 900. Organizers see the potential for many more as more companies join.
One of the biggest challenges facing foreign workers who are running against the clock to find a new job is the way companies often advertise. In most cases, posts do not say whether a company is willing to handle the transfer and sponsor an H-1B visa holder.
Ram, a Dallas tech who asked not to be called by his last name, said applying without knowing the visa information could be a huge waste of time. He is originally from India and was released on January 18.
That’s one of the problems the website is trying to solve. Job postings will be from employers who already sponsor H-1B visas.
Family is another source of stress for those visa holders. If their H-1B status is terminated, their spouses and children will also lose the right to live and work in the US, Garner said.
“Often the family is forgotten in all this,” he said. “It’s something that can be very disturbing.”
Windy City Welcome
Chicago has been grappling with rising crime since the pandemic that has sparked outrage among residents and business leaders. The Windy City has also seen the departure of a number of high-profile companies over the past year, including hedge fund Citadel, Boeing (NYSE:) Co. and the local offices of Tyson Food (NYSE:) Corp.
Yet the city positions itself as hospitable and tries to turn diversity into an economic advantage. About 40% of the country’s software engineers were born outside the US, and 21 Fortune 500 companies in the area were founded by immigrants or the child of an immigrant, Henderson said in an interview.
“Many CEOs are immigrants themselves, some even came here on H1B visas,” said Michael Fassnacht, the head of World Business Chicago and the city’s chief marketing officer, who is originally from Germany. “We are a welcoming region and this is not just a statement. This is and should be a long-term competitive advantage for our businesses.”
Chicago’s economy, best known for traditional industries such as food, manufacturing, health care and finance, is well diversified and there is no single dominant sector. While that means the city isn’t going through booms in the same way that, say, San Francisco did during its technological expansion, Chicago tends to be more resilient in tough times, Henderson said.
“Our very diverse set of healthcare companies, industrial companies, companies with exposure to the energy industry and the renewable energy industry is really helping us right now,” Henderson said. “These are companies making real things, for real people, who are in favor right now, and it’s an opportunity for us to get some really good people.”