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How DSM Employers Can Reach + Retain International Candidates

Immigration Forum

February 24, 2022

During the 2022 Public Policy Issue Forum on Immigration, an expert panel discussed how businesses can include international talent as one way to meet their hiring needs and encourage the law changes needed to make critical workers available. I had the privilege to moderate the panel consisting of:

  • Lauren Burt, Kemin Industries
  • Karen Edwards, Grinnell College
  • Mak Suceska , Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services

International Talent Available in Iowa

With 9,500 international students in higher education throughout the state, this talent is already contributing $239 million to our state’s economy and supporting 1,935 jobs, according to Edwards. At Grinnell, more than 5,000 applications come in for 90 seats for international candidates.

Edwards suggested that employers can include these students in their candidate pool by considering those on student visas, rather than screening them out, and by making candidates aware that they are open to considering those with temporary work authorization. Most students will be able to work for one year following graduation and those in STEM fields may work an additional two years if the employer uses E-Verify. Transition to other work visas or the “green card” may also be possible. Some students may be able to work even before graduation in certain circumstances.  

Suceska noted that refugees living in Iowa are already authorized to work, and area employers have been hiring them for many years. Now the focus is on expanding the roles they can fill for existing employers and working with new employers to leverage this talent pool.

The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services can answer questions that employers have about hiring refugees and assist in overcoming real or perceived barriers through technical assistance and agency/community partnerships.

Recruiting Internationally

Burt discussed Kemin’s strategy for international recruitment. At Kemin, a science-based company, it may be that only one or two people in the world possess a skillset to fill a particular role. If Kemin can bring this talent to DSM, they are then able to hire the researchers, lab techs and other scientists for that person’s team, resulting in a net positive for the region. Various work visas are available for international recruiting, depending on the nature of the job and the nature of the company.

Burt also agreed that public-private partnerships between universities and corporations are critical to filling specific talent needs.

Changing the Law to Meet Talent Needs

As employers recognize the need to include international talent in their recruitment universe, the limitations of current laws and systems come into relief. Burt noted that sharing success stories with legislators is important so that they understand what is at stake. Edwards, who is focused on higher education and the changes needed to make that system work better, suggested a national strategy to address how the U.S. can continue to recruit foreign talent to universities and support their path to remain in the right circumstances.

For refugees, the changes needed are different because they are in the U.S. and are authorized to work for any employer. Suceska suggested that we consider how we can bridge any employment and higher education gaps that exist and noted that several community groups and coalitions are working through a process to identify gaps as well as ways to fill them. Employers can assist in this process by contacting his agency.

Watch the entire webinar below:


To find out more about global talent in Iowa, including Global DSM: International Talent Strategy and local services and events that The Partnership provides throughout the region, visit the global talent page.

The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization.

Lori Chesser

Lori Chesser is a preeminent immigration lawyer and advocate at Denton's Davis Brown.