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Canadian and American fleet managers seek out foreign truck drivers to solve labour shortage

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

It is no secret that there is a supply chain problem that is delaying the delivery of goods to customers all over the country, particularly for the upcoming Christmas season. While things have been improving in recent days, more has to be done to resolve this long term problem and one area that should be addressed is truck driver shortages.

According to the American Trucking Association, “To keep up with demand over the next decade, trucking will need to recruit nearly one million new drivers to close the gap caused by demand for freight, projected retirements and other issues.” Bob Costello, the Association’s chief economist recently said, “Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drivers and subsequently the shortage.”

While much of the need over the next decade will be made up by recruiting new drivers in the country, clearly America will not be able to provide all the truckers that will be needed over the next decade. Indeed, Costello projects the current shortfall of 80,000 drivers will grow to 160,000 truckers by 2030. “The industry is raising pay at five times the historic average, but this isn’t just a pay issue.

We have an aging workforce, a workforce that is overwhelmingly male and finding ways to address those issues is key to narrowing the shortage,” says Costello. He adds that this is one of the few careers in America with a path to a middle class lifestyle that doesn’t require a college degree, yet it faces the shortfalls identified.

The H-2B Option

U.S. trucking companies can use the H-2B visa to hire foreign commercial truck drivers. This visa program is designed to help U.S. employers overcome shortages of U.S. workers who are not willing and able to perform nonagricultural labor. Employers can hire truckers from abroad on a temporary basis for up to 12 months and can apply to extend the H2B work visa if the need persists for up to 3 years. The employer has to first obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor. That involves getting a prevailing wage determination to determine the minimum the trucker should be paid and advertising the H-2B position under Labor Department guidance before it can be opened to foreign truckers. The H2B visa can only fill a temporary need such as a one-time occurrence, seasonal need, peak load need or intermittent need. After getting the labor certification approval, the U.S. employer has to submit a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). On approval of the petition the seleted truckers have to go their nearest U.S. consulate to get a visa in their passport before they can come and start working in the U.S. However, in the case of Canadian truckers, they can skip that step and go straight to the border to enter.

EB-3 Employment-Based Permanent Resident Option

The EB-3 immigrant visa category enables U.S. employers to hire unskilled foreign truckers in a permanent capacity. Similar to the H-2B, the EB-3 also requires a labor certification from the Department of Labor with both prevailing wage and position advertising requirements. The severe shortage of commercial truck drivers in the U.S. is well established so proving that there are no qualified U.S. truckers to fill the position should be relatively easy. Once the labor certification is approved by the Labor Department, the employer can subsequently file a Permanent Resident petition with the USCIS. If the petition is approved the trucker has to either go to the nearest U.S. consulate to obtain the immigrant visa or if in the U.S., apply for adjustment of status. The EB-3 is a more lengthy and costly process than the H2-B, but has the advantage of solving the driver shortage on a more permanent basis. At the moment, internal U.S. processing is preferred due to consular backlogs related to Covid-19.

The U.S. government recognizes foreign commercial driving licenses issued by the federal government of Mexico and the provinces and territories in Canada. So in theory, such truckers can go to work immediately. Otherwise, the process of obtaining a commercial driver’s license is likely to take a few weeks in most U.S. states.

Owner/Operator E-2 Visas

Owner-Operator Semi Truck Drivers could be part of the solution of the American trucker shortage


Owner Operators may also be able to get E-2 work visas. Such visas can be obtained if the trucker can show that he is starting up a business in the United States and that over time it is likely to grow to employ a few workers apart from the Owner/Operator. The foundation for such a work visa would be an investment treaty signed between the U.S. and the trucker’s home country, such as Mexico or Canada. The E-2 visa is granted if the trucker has made a substantial investment in the trucker’s rig and transferred the ownership of the rig to the trucker’s U.S. company created for that purpose. Success will depend on a solid business plan establishing the rationale for the U.S. trucking business including the engagement of U.S. workers in future years and projecting the likely profits to be made from it. The main challenge of these visas, usually granted for five years and renewable so long as the business continues to prosper, is that the visas are approved only at a U.S. consulate and not at the border. There is currently a very substantial backlog of applicants for such visas so an application may take a year or longer to be approved.

These are the main immigration considerations that should be taken into account in dealing with the trucking industry in the United States. None of these visas should be undertaken without the assistance of a qualified U.S. immigration attorney as they are all relatively difficult to obtain and involve considerable paperwork. However, the visas discussed could certainly help the trucking industry to overcome its shortages over the next decade.

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