H-1B visa US
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How are US companies coping with Trump’s H-1B visa crackdown?

5 Mar 2018

New research conducted by Envoy indicates that H-1B visas are harder to get than ever, and that companies are incurring significant costs and moving jobs as a result.

As we have reported before, the looming question of the fate of the H-1B visa under the administration of US president Donald Trump still hangs in the air, and it’s a question that many around the world are anxious to get an answer to.

It has been reported by numerous news outlets that H-1B applicants are being inundated with paperwork already while trying to attain H-1B visas.

New research into immigration trends commissioned by Envoy, a company that helps US companies process visa applications, reveals the scale of how the new visa crackdowns are affecting companies and prospective employees alike.

We spoke to Richard Burke, the CEO of Envoy, about the research his company conducted, the challenges US companies are facing and how employers can use technology to make the visa application process go more smoothly.

What kind of skill shortages do foreign workers most often fill in your clients’ companies, and which sectors report the highest skill gaps?

We work with more than 1,000 companies nationwide, from fast-growing tech start-ups, to the Fortune 500 and everything in between. Our customers rely on foreign talent to fill the biggest skills gaps in the US, which is primarily in the STEM areas: engineering, software development and data science.

The 400 companies we surveyed rely increasingly on foreign national talent for myriad reasons, but most notably because of the skills gap.

Beyond addressing the large skills gap, companies report that a key benefit of hiring foreign talent is knowledge of global business practices outside the US, and having unique and diverse experiences and perspectives.

HR professionals have said that the US immigration system has led to delayed projects and more hires. How much is this costing companies?

The cost on companies is profound; 26pc of companies are delaying projects, 25pc say they had to increase budgets, 22pc moved work overseas and 14pc say they are unable to fulfil client projects.

Foreign nationals are more anxious and have more questions, which is leading them to delay accepting positions until their applications are approved.

This leaves companies keeping vacant positions open longer and risking not filling the position at all if a foreign national’s visa application is either not approved or called into question.

The cost of an open position, especially in key roles like product and technology, is calculated at two times the monthly salary for that position. Despite these difficulties, sourcing the best talent, regardless of location, prevails as a top priority.

How will your clients deal with the difficulties the new visa regulations have created for them?

85pc of employers said US immigration policies have an impact on their hiring. While our research shows some of them have delayed projects, we also see that many more are simply moving these jobs elsewhere.

22pc of employers have relocated work overseas. We have seen this trend grow over the last two years.

Several companies have opened locations in Mexico and Canada to not only leverage the local talent pools, but also take advantage of their more welcoming immigration policies.

For example, China is heavily incentivising working there for foreign nationals, and they’re seeing returns in an increasing amount of successful ‘unicorn’ start-up companies.

In terms of managing processes, 28pc of companies we surveyed said that they have increased staff to deal with global work authorisation challenges.

They are also looking at alternatives to the H-1B, like the TN and L-1 visas, to bring in the best candidates.

98pc of employers changed their green card policy in the past year, with 37pc sponsoring more green cards than before and 31pc sponsoring them faster because of the added security they provide recipients.

How will companies have to change their work authorisation practices to remain compliant?

The noteworthy part about a lot of non-compliance cases is that the majority of companies are unwittingly violating the rules.

The problem is simply that these companies don’t understand regulations. Particularly, companies are often unaware of the need to ensure that an employee’s job status – in terms of location, salary, title, role or union status – doesn’t breach the terms of their visa.

Companies also often fail to communicate effectively with their legal counsel, which can place them out of compliance.

Violations can lead to much more significant burdens in terms of cost, time spent and even deportation.

Companies should make sure they keep their immigration counsel abreast of any changes to a foreign national employee’s status that could trigger a breach.

Companies should also do regular internal self-audits, overseen by legal counsel, to ensure that all information is up to date and reflects any and all organisational changes.

Additionally, with the government reaching the H-1B visa cap date faster than ever, companies should start gathering information and preparing applications as soon as possible. Starting early can reduce unnecessary anxiety and prevent careless mistakes caused by rushing.

In the event that a company does end up on the receiving end of a site audit, it needs to have a plan.

Know who the visiting officer will speak to, who will contact the lawyers, what information will be shared with the officer, how to locate public access files and have your public access files in order etc.

Having answers to those questions ahead of time will make these visits go smoothly and be less stressful.

How long does visa processing take on average? How could visa processes be expedited?

There are two time components to visa processing: the time it takes to prepare the application, and then the time it takes for the government to adjudicate the petition.

This whole process is clearly a huge headache for employers, as 85pc ranked quicker processing as the most important component they’d like to see the government change in the immigration system.

In regards to preparing the petition, companies can expedite and streamline the application process with immigration platforms.

Case management technology automates the process through intuitive workflows, streamlined forms and organised document management, keeping all relevant information in one place and decreasing the need to chase down employees, lawyers or other relevant parties for updates, or sift through hard copies or Excel spreadsheets in search of the most current information available.

For the H-1B cap for example, all the petitions are due on 2 April 2018. Because of the high demand for H-1B visas, the amount of time it takes to reach the cap has gone from 72 days in 2013 to only five days this year.

Typically, companies hear back on cap petitions in August or September and employees can start work on 1 October.

Premium processing helps by reducing that time for government review to 15 days. However, last year, cases were still being adjudicated well into October, and premium processing was removed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services last year for cap season.

How could technology be used by companies to manage the immigration process?

Technology removes friction by automating the manual tasks and ensuring everything is done correctly, quickly and compliantly.

While technology brings efficiency to the application process by creating intuitive workflows, form automation, secure document uploads and easy project management, managing immigration is so much more than just applying for a visa.

Tech solutions such as Envoy can also keep track of budgets and help forecast resources, consolidate document management and streamline communication between HR, immigration lawyers, the employee and hiring managers.

With a centralised platform, there’s no more scrambling for information or waiting days for an answer on status. Everything is easily accessible, and conversations and check-ins can happen to the minute, without unnecessary gaps of silence or non-communication.

Making use of immigration technology allows HR professionals to focus on other areas of their jobs while ensuring that they are able to source and hire foreign talent or send talent anywhere in the world efficiently and compliantly.

Do you think Trump’s policies are going to harm US businesses?

The skills gap is real, and the problems with our skilled worker immigration system have been in place since well before the Trump administration.

A key pain point that is more recent, however, is uncertainty. Employers don’t know exactly how things will change and employees simply don’t know if they are welcome in the US.

There are downstream effects of uncertainty that we may not feel for a few months or maybe years. But, if we can’t find the best talent for our open jobs, our innovation will suffer.

If we can’t hire the best from around the world to work here, because either we don’t have the immigration system to support or immigrants are unwilling to come here any more, then these high-paying jobs will be moved overseas.

It’s hard to attain our GDP growth goal if we are losing the very high-paying jobs and employees that will drive it.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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