A more automated solution offers transparency, responsiveness throughout the visa application process.
by Robert Meltzer
As a software firm that provided the first enterprise-scale energy information management solution for applications used in the utility and commercial/industrial advanced metering market, eMeter understands the value of process automation and end-to-end visibility. However, until the summer of 2007, its low-tech approach to acquiring visas and green cards for employees who were foreign nationals offered limited transparency.
The fast-growing company, based in San Mateo, CA, relied on a local law firm to handle its immigration cases. The only way to check an employee’s status or obtain other case-related information was for eMeter’s HR manager to call the attorneys and wait, sometimes for weeks, for a response.
When Leslie Wallace joined eMeter in August 2008 as senior director of HR, she was all too familiar with the lack of responsiveness and transparency as well as other drawbacks of the traditional immigration legal services model. In her previous position at a small start-up, she had spent countless hours chasing down information on pending cases and trying to reassure worried employees seeking updates two to three times a week.
“Just trying to track down attorneys to check the status of an employee’s case was an incredibly painful part of the job,” Wallace explained. “When I came to eMeter, I was very concerned about the amount of time I would have to devote to immigration issues.”
A year prior to Wallace’s arrival, eMeter had begun working with VISANOW, an outsourced immigration law firm that developed a technology-driven model to streamline the document-intensive, form-driven immigration process. Its process enhanced transparency, responsiveness, and productivity by utilizing web-based technology to automate administrative, nonlegal functions, eliminating the redundancies and inefficiencies of unnecessary paperwork.
The provider also creates and maintains a centralized database of immigration information for each client, providing transparency on the status of employee cases. By logging on to their personal accounts, visa and green card applicants—as well as HR staff—have direct, complete access to real-time information on their cases. HR professionals also can take advantage of a comprehensive set of online management tools to track and monitor the process of individual cases.
The provider’s transparent, centralized approach makes managing the process much easier and less time-consuming for Wallace. “It’s just a godsend to be able to check all the data, all in one place, to see where things stand. I automatically receive e-mail alerts from VISANOW indicating when there are filing dates, upcoming expirations, documents needed, or other critical steps I need to be aware of,” she explained.
The company uploaded case details for applications initiated by its previous attorneys into the VISANOW system. As a result, eMeter can still take advantage of case management tools that automatically trigger alerts and key date reminders for pre-existing applications as well as new cases.
Wallace added that the process also offers a more responsive customer service than dealing with a traditional law firm. The vendor provides Wallace with live support for all aspects including technical issues and escalation to an attorney. “If a situation is particularly complicated, they’ll even contact the attorneys on my behalf and get back to me,” she said. “My questions are answered within hours, not weeks.”
Direct employee access to the latest information via the VISANOW website has also slashed the amount of time Wallace spends seeking information for employees and reassuring them about the progress of their cases. “It’s nerve-wracking for employees. They want to know their status,” she said. “Since everyone can now go online and check directly, which they’re happy to do, they don’t need to come to me to track down information. I get involved only if they have specific concerns.”
As a result, both Wallace and the eMeter employees can focus on being more productive in their jobs. She has the time needed to concentrate on strategic HR programming, while employees aren’t distracted by their immigration status.
Automating and streamlining the administrative aspects make the entire visa application process substantially less labor-intensive, which has led to substantial cost savings for the company. VISANOW’s business model is based on a flat fee structure instead of hourly charges, which has proved cost-effective for eMeter. Not only has its per-case cost of processing visas dropped but also accurate budgeting has become much easier.
Additionally, Wallace said she would have needed at least a part-time employee to aid her in just administering the paperwork if the company had not outsourced the work.
Moreover, Wallace said she is confident that the outsourced solution can seamlessly scale with eMeter’s global expansion, a critical factor for a company that tripled its staff in just 12 months.
Robert Meltzer is the CEO of VISANOW.