Should security pros get special H-1B visa consideration?

Only .3% of H-1B visas were issued to information security analysts

H-1B visa man entering U.S. with briefcase

New U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may disagree about whether there is a shortage of skilled IT workers in America, as he has asserted at hearings over the past two years, but talk to most CISOs and they will confirm that when it comes to cybersecurity talent in particular, the skills shortage is very real.

“There’s no doubt about it,” says John Masserini, CISO at equity derivatives marketMIAX Options in Princeton, N.J. “We’ve had two positions open for three months now,” a security operations center analyst and a security engineer position. The company’s location between two major metro areas – New York City and Philadelphia – makes the competition for cybersecurity talent especially tough, he says. Meanwhile, the firm’s security workload keeps growing. “I already know that by the end of this year I’m going to have a couple more openings,” he says.

The cybersecurity unemployment rate dropped to zero in September, according to research firm Cybersecurity Ventures. The global demand for cybersecurity workers is expected to reach 6 million by 2019, with a projected shortfall of 1.5 million qualified security pros. More than half (57 percent) of organizations today say that finding and recruiting talented IT security staff with the right skill sets is a “significant” or “major” challenge, according to a survey by Osterman Research for Trustwave. The new White House administration could make finding cybersecurity talent even tougher.

The Trump administration intends to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity, but at the same time it’s looking to revamp the country’s H-1B visa program, a huge source for bringing specialized IT talent to the U.S. The administration has floated the idea of replacing the current lottery system for issuing H-1B visas with a merit system, in an effort to recruit only the “best and brightest” talent for the most in-demand IT skills and to keep well-paying IT jobs in American hands.

The skills, education and experience that would garner additional merit have not been discussed publicly, but some cybersecurity leaders and industry-watchers say that special consideration should be given to H-1B visa applicants with cybersecurity skills to help fill critical positions.

“U.S. businesses are thriving. In this hyper-expansion mode, you can’t get everything perfect. You need people to plug those security holes,” says Chris Schueler, senior vice president of managed security services at Trustwave. “We need to tap into those skills where they exist, and a lot of them don’t exist in the U.S.”

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