If the pilot shortage is real and the response is to greatly increase pilot pay, should airlines be lobbying regulators to make it easier to recruit foreign pilots via more H1-B visas?
Could Pilot Shortage Be Solved Through More H1-B Visas?
It is my understanding that foreign pilots who wish to apply for a green card to work in American, must obtain a EB-2 (NIW) visa. That includes the following requirements:
- 10 years minimum full-time experience flying as an airline pilot
- Professional license/certification to fly
- Proof of pilot’s salary/other remuneration for the services which demonstrate exceptional ability
- Evidence of membership(s) in a professional pilot association(s)
- Evidence of the recognition of the pilot’s achievements as well as all applicable significant contributions to the industry – either by colleagues, government entities, professional and/or business organizations
- Academic records showing a degree, diploma or certificate related to the aviation industry from a college, university, school, or other comparable institutions
- Any additional evidence which would be considered comparable, such as previous training, experience, managerial duties, or ability in the field which is otherwise exceptional
These are very powerful visas in the sense that they lead to a green card quicker than other visas, which is the pathway to citizenship in the USA.
But the drawback is that they can take 18 months or more to process.
H1-B visas, on the other hand, typically take only 3-5 months to process. One issue with H1-B visas is that a “national interest waiver” is required, which essentially means the job should not replace the job an American worker can do. In the past pilots simply looking to fly for commercial airlines were denied H1-B visas (their work was deemed non-essential), but those who served as both pilots and flight instructors were more likely to successfully obtain an H1-B visa. Another issue that there is such a high demand for H1-B visas that a lottery is in place, making them unpredictable even if pilots have a guaranteed job offer from a US carrier.
Maybe airlines should direct their lobbying efforts directed at lawmakers to allocate more H1-B visas for qualified pilots or a whole new visa category meant to make it easier for pilots to come to the USA?
Sooner or later the pilot shortage will be filled. Yet we see that pilots have been successful in negotiating very sweet contracts due in part to the shortage now. One way to end this shortage would be to make it easier for qualified foreign pilots to immigrate to the USA. If not, then why not?