HR should consider four approaches to help navigate the ever-changing immigration regulations.
By Tim O’Shea
Immigration is one of the most complicated and important issues that HR professionals face today. An intricate lattice of social, political, religious, and economic forces collide to create ebbs and flows in immigration, as well as country-specific policies. Each day, people all around the world cross national borders in search of opportunity or refuge. But many governments are reacting to the growing anti-globalisation sentiment with proposals for stricter immigration rules and doubling efforts to enforce existing regulations.
The uncertainty surrounding immigration policies greatly impacts global mobility programmes and the movement of skilled professionals. Skilled workforce mobility is critical for a strong global economy. Ultimately, it promotes the spread of talent, goods, and services, which benefits companies and consumers alike.
The complexities of global immigration create many new challenges and hurdles that HR and mobility managers must overcome to move their company’s skilled workforce around the world effectively and efficiently.
HR professionals should consider these four approaches to navigating these uncertain times:
1. Take inventory of current global talent. Before a company makes any significant policy or strategic changes to its global mobility programme, HR managers should take a step back, look at the big picture, and take inventory of their global workforces.
It’s important to be clear about assignment durations because it’s not uncommon for laws and regulations to shift whilst an employee is away on assignment. Starting from a point of clarity about an assignee’s end date will help alleviate potential complications caused by these changes. Adjustments to work-permit salary thresholds or revisions to country-specific reentry rules can bring unexpected headaches, often during an assignee’s or a dependent’s travel. Knowing in advance where employee are and the exact status of their visa and work permits can put HR ahead of these issues.
HR managers need to stay on top of their foreign nationals’ visa and work authorisation statuses. They should also clearly communicate upcoming milestones and corresponding next steps to leaders. Staying ahead of important deadlines and events and preparing for them appropriately can help ensure compliance with current regulations and an organised approach to potential changes. Likewise, this preparation allows HR managers to better provide strategic planning and guidance as it relates to their company’s global talent.
2. Find reliable sources of news and information. It’s imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest policies that impact skilled global workforces, paying particular attention to any changes to tax and immigration laws. HR professionals need to understand not only the proposed changes and their impact, but also how and when they will be enforced. They must be aware of penalties of noncompliance and how these penalties might apply to their company and situation.
The ability to find impartial, reliable information that discloses the impact on skilled workers is also essential. HR managers need to be objective referees that help their senior leaders navigate their company’s talent strategy. In order to stay knowledgeable, HR and mobility managers should seek out quality content that deals with facts, milestones, and action items related to proposed changes. Relevant organisations such as Worldwide ERC and the Council for Global Immigration are good sources for accurate information. Additionally, joining an immigration provider’s alert and update email or blog subscriptions can often deliver critical, fact-based information.
3. Assume that immigration policy will make things harder. Change is inevitable, especially when it comes to immigration regulations that impact a skilled workforce. Programmes that are most likely to change include H1B and F1 visas for those planning to study or work in the U.S. because they are subject to availability and applicants must meet specific criteria. To be safe, HR professionals should assume that immigration requirements will get tougher and that government audits and oversight will become more stringent. For example, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has stepped up its site audits of companies with H1B visa holders. Companies with more than just a few H1B holders can expect auditors to visit unannounced and should plan to validate their compliance with existing rules.
One way to prepare for any impending changes is to review the organisation’s foreign student hiring practices. IT and engineering roles are often attractive to foreign nationals studying in the U.S., and that won’t change any time soon. But having a clear strategy in the face of potential reductions and restrictions in the F1 student visa programme is a smart approach. In addition, the operational aspects of immigration require plenty of resources; relying solely on outside counsel is costly and not always practical. Companies may need to hire additional personnel with a solid understanding of the immigration process, particularly for inbound U.S. skilled foreign nationals. It’s likely that companies will need more bandwidth to manage the impacts these changes will have on their global mobility programmes as well.
4. Leverage immigration partners. Credible, objective legal counsel with international capabilities is crucial when dealing with cross-border moves as well. A qualified immigration firm knows hard and fast facts about the constantly changing immigration situation in the countries in which a company conducts business and provides guidance around immigration laws and how they’re enforced. When an organisation plans to expand into new territory, they will also be able to immerse themselves in the laws of new host countries. It’s common for companies with large U.S. workforces to select a U.S.-based immigration partner to manage the varied and complex U.S. immigration landscape; simultaneously, they will also work with a more global partner on cross-border immigration.
Despite all the uncertainty facing the HR world today, the forces of the global economy will continue to churn, and companies will need to expand throughout the world no matter how regulations tighten. This will only make HR managers’ jobs more critical and require them to get ahead of potential issues and changes by planning thoughtfully, offering sound counsel to senior leaders, and guiding the company’s global mobility strategy.
Tim O’Shea is vice president of worldwide consulting services at Graebel Relocation.