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The U.S. is still the top destination for highly skilled tech talent—and companies are using a special visa to bring them here

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Good morning!

The U.S. is a titan of the global technology industry and is home to some of the most cutting-edge firms like NvidiaOpenAI, and Google. That dominance has attracted top talent worldwide, allowing the U.S. to best many of its Western competitors.

While Canada, Spain, and Great Britain were the largest employers of global tech talent in 2023, the U.S. remains the top choice for highly skilled workers, according to a new Tech Migration report from Deel, a global HR and payroll company. The U.S. received the most visa requests in 2023, jumping 263% from 2022.

International talent doesn't seem deterred by some of the recent instability in the U.S. job market, tech layoffs, a high cost of living, legal barriers to immigration, and political unrest.

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In fact, the O1-A Extraordinary Visa was most requested internationally last year, according to the report. The three-year visa is designed for professionals in the top 10% of their field, has no cap on the amount of authorizations the U.S. can issue, and is incredibly difficult to qualify. Applicants must have three out of eight “extraordinary abilities,” such as receiving an achievement award, getting featured in a major publication, leading a specialized panel, or having international recognition in science, education, business, or athletics.

“It's difficult to get,” says Masha Sutherlin, who, as the director of global corporate legal and mobility at Deel, oversees immigration. “You have to really be able to show some results and some recognition.” Frontrunners have unique skills, inventions, or patents or have received VC funding. Even though the visa application can be over a thousand pages, it’s still in high demand. From 2021 to 2022, there was a 29% increase in filed O-1A applications and 25% more approvals, with both figures slowing to about a 5% increase between 2022 and 2023. While the Extraordinary Visa remains popular, its strict requirements and laborious process also limit who can apply and who is accepted.

International tech workers also seek out other types of U.S. visas, such as the EB-1A Einstein Visa, a merit-based employment visa, and the highly popular H1-B visa. However, the number of approvals isn’t keeping pace with demand. The EB-1A had the largest percentage increase in requests, and the competition for H1-B visas is so fierce that it now operates as a lottery system.

The high demand for U.S. work visas is not entirely surprising: American companies received 43% of all global startup funding last year, and senior engineers can make up to $208,000 a year, according to the report. Access to top engineering schools like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford University, and MIT also presents growth opportunities.

Still, other countries are rising as fierce competitors for international tech talent, such as Estonia, France, and Spain, and a pullback on visa approvals could result in a shortage of talent with requisite tech skills, especially as AI booms. Canada was the third top recruiter of tech talent last year, which Sutherlin says may be a result of the country snagging those who were rejected for U.S. work authorization. Any restriction on the supply of visa approvals could allow the U.S.'s North American neighbor to swoop in further.

“The U.S. has always been the leader, but you see that changing,” Sutherlin says, adding that countries without a solid tech industry are “very much looking to attract founders and then develop that ecosystem.”

Emma Burleigh
emma.burleigh@fortune.com

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com