Recent immigration regulations are creating new challenges for companies who rely on global talent.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Recent changes in U.S. immigration policy are creating roadblocks for American businesses and their employees—especially those who rely on global talent. According to Envoy Global Inc.’s 2017 Immigration Trends Report, globalization in the business world is on the rise. In fact, 55 percent of employers expected to hire more workers from overseas in 2017, up from 34 percent in the year prior. In addition, 63 percent of HR leaders claimed that hiring international employees is very or extremely important to their talent acquisition strategy—a significant leap from 42 percent in 2016.
But in a highly uncertain and rapidly changing political climate, employers that depend on access to global talent are being met with increased scrutiny and complications. “The Trump administration’s travel restrictions, which includes the ‘Travel Ban’ and more general scrutiny of visitors entering the U.S. as imposed by Customs and Border Protection, can create compliance and business interruptions for those relocating and also can spread to the company’s entire business traveler population,” says Robert Bartle, director of immigration and legal affairs at Aires.
The “Travel Ban,” which forbade the emigration of citizens from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela to the U.S., created significant travel challenges for employees from the restricted countries. And in April, another executive order was signed that has further complicated the relocation process.
“The biggest policy impact has been via President Trump’s Executive Order 13788, which is titled ‘Buy American and Hire American,’” Bartle explains. “Though there have not been formal legislative changes resulting from ‘Buy American and Hire American,’ the order’s aim at protecting the U.S. workforce has resulted in tighter review and scrutiny for foreign workers applying for work authorization in the U.S.”
Facing the Impact
As a result of Trump’s executive order, U.S. Immigration Services has instituted a more vigorous review process for H-1B visa applicants. In particular, Roberta Carnaccini, global operations director of immigration at Crown World Mobility, says that businesses are under greater pressure to demonstrate the need for foreign national employees. “In the U.S., we are witnessing more and more ‘Requests for Evidence,’ where immigration officials question the need to bring in non-U.S. workforce onto its soil.”
This is hurting companies that require highly specialized and skilled employees and creating hiring and productivity delays. “We are in the midst of a growing talent shortage in many sectors, particularly in technology and healthcare as well as skilled trades, and this policy has made it even more difficult for companies to source the talent they need,” says MSI Global Talent Solutions’ President Carolina Rojas Newman.
Other immediate impacts of the new immigration policies include:
1. Recruitment challenges. Limiting the number of legal immigrants allowed to work in the U.S. is a major concern for organizations that rely on a fluid approach to recruitment and relocation. “[Immigration regulation] leads to a less fluid global workforce, one in which employers may not be able to recruit needed or desired talent or place current workers in the locations they prefer,” says Bartle. “And as a result, companies will need to increase recruitment efforts and investments with local candidates and new hires.”
According to Littler’s 2018 Annual Employer Survey, 48 percent of HR professionals feel that tighter restrictions on visa adjudications is the most significant issue that will impact the workplace in the next year.
2. A more complicated process. The process of getting international hires and transfers approved has also become increasingly complex. According to Carnaccini, companies are now required to provide extensive proof that temporary transfers will be returning to their country of origin. Plus, visas for permanent transfers are even more difficult to secure.
“Permanent moves are more affected as the real need to have a specific role (and person) permanently in a country will need to be proven. Companies must demonstrate that no local workforce is able to perform the same function,” she explains.
Bartle says that issues related to immigration complexity can also affect ancillary elements of the relocation process, including:
- shipping belongings into a country;
- enrolling children in school;
- opening a bank account; and
- signing a lease.
“All of these matters can be frustrated when immigration is delayed, which could create friction with the overall relocation process and compliance with company policies,” he adds.
3. Higher costs. Delays and added complications also have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. From spending more time compiling applications and responding to “Requests for Evidence,” to consulting with attorneys about potential challenges, applying for work authorization in the U.S. today requires a higher initial investment.
Failure to comply with regulations can also result in significant costs and consequences. Carnaccini says, “Compliance is imperative these days, not only to preserve corporate reputation but as fines can be extremely hefty and, in many cases, comprise criminal consequences. To be and remain compliant, one must follow and abide to the local immigration rules.”
Adapting to the New Reality
How can organizations prepare themselves to meet these challenges head-on and ensure a fair and compliant relocation process? The experts recommend four best practices:
1. Remain organized. The key to compliance is data, and Bartle says that compiling the specific information of all employees possessing immigration sponsorship is a good first step to managing deadlines, requirements, and policy changes.
“It is always key to have a good grasp and handle on your foreign national worker population (i.e., those working in countries in which they are not a citizen), whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. Having this information and data duly organized will allow the organization to make sound strategy decisions and remain nimble with regard to personnel that could be impacted by shifting immigration laws,” he explains.
In addition to managing the details of each transferee, such as visa status and expiration dates, organizations need to remain up-to-date on any rule changes so that they can quickly adapt and protect their sponsored employees.
2. Be vigilant. Due to the complexity of today’s immigration regulations, many employees may not fully understand the requirements and limits of their travel plans. HR needs to communicate with their sponsored employees, monitor their stay in the host country, and ensure that all immigration procedures are followed properly. “One of the ways companies can ensure they remain compliant is by being as vigilant as possible about an employee’s whereabouts to ensure they don’t exceed days in country,” says Rojas Newman.
3. Remain flexible. In this competitive immigration environment, organizations have to remain aware of their options and be flexible enough to adapt if the process goes awry. For example, employees can be encouraged to apply for a different type of visa or be sent to another location entirely.
“If one type of visa is denied, companies can in some instances apply for another type. For example, if an H1-B or L-1B visa is denied, which is happening more often, the company can try applying a merit-based visa. These include the O-1 (for ‘individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement’) or the E-3 for Australian nationals in certain specialty occupations,” Rojas Newman explains.
4. Leverage the local workforce. In some cases, travel limitations may be so strict that organizations would be better served by reaching out to local talent and developing training programs to create their own talent pipeline.
“Several nations have a ratio system for which a company sending international workers will need to abide to a certain percentage of local nationals to foreigners. Examples, among others, are Egypt, Angola, and Algeria. Companies will need to start thinking about leveraging the local workforce, often by training them and ultimately benefitting the countries,” says Carnaccini.