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Employment Immigration Fraught with Challenges
 

By Roy Maurer  10/7/2013
 

Employers need access to top talent globally, and they devote significant resources to managing employee immigration, but they still face a variety of obstacles that inhibit their ability to hire skilled professionals in a timely manner, according to a new survey report.

In the Council for Global Immigration’s inaugural employer immigration survey, 70 percent of respondents—and 96 percent of large employers with at least 20,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees—said the ability to obtain visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to their organization’s business objectives.

Yet, respondents cited delays in visa processing, inconsistencies in visa issuance, inhibitive immigration policies and regulatory scrutiny by government agencies as barriers to hiring foreign talent.

“Employers worldwide face a skills gap and are taking multi-faceted approaches to develop their future workforces,” the council, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), said in the report. “Without the flexibility offered by responsive immigration policies, global employers may lose their competitive edge, adversely affecting both U.S. and worldwide economic conditions.”

The survey sample, fielded in spring 2013, consisted of 240 people from the council’s membership database and 5,000 SHRM members who are HR managers and above. There were 391 responses.

Employers Spend Significant Resources on Immigration

The survey revealed that the average employer spends $506,972 on the immigration function. Large organizations (20,000-plus FTEs) spend an average of $1,784,713. The five employers at the highest end of the scale reported spending between $3,771,100 and $5,500,000 in this area.

“Because the process of hiring foreign workers is complicated and time-consuming, many employers find it necessary to have a dedicated staff with expertise in making strategic decisions and in preparing a variety of immigration filings,” the council said.

The average respondent has nine full-time employees who work on immigration (one for every 1,447 employees) even though few workers require immigration assistance.

For comparison, the average organization listed in SHRM’s Human Capital Benchmarking Database employs only one FTE employee to work on benefits and one to work on compensation for every 1,695 employees—almost all of whom require benefits and compensation assistance.

Companies that hire foreign workers are required to fill out reams of immigration-related paperwork, a lot of which comes with large fees. “Analyzing individuals’ immigration qualifications, filling out complicated forms and collecting appropriate documents adds significant time and expense to the recruitment and hiring process,” the council noted.

What’s more, multinational organizations must be able to navigate widely varying immigration laws, forms and procedures worldwide.

The majority of respondents’ immigration filings are prepared by outside counsel, according to the report. The largest organizations rely most heavily on outside counsel to prepare filings, ranging from 86 percent for labor-condition applications to 98 percent for permanent-labor-certification filings.

Those surveyed spend an average of $199,560 on outside counsel. Though at the highest end of the scale, the top five employers spend from $2,000,000 to $2,917,575 for outside counsel services.

Immigration Responsibility Most Commonly Falls to HR

The immigration function is housed in various departments at different organizations but most commonly within the HR department, the survey revealed.

Seventy-one percent of respondents place the immigration function within the HR department, but larger organizations are less likely to do so.

Of organizations with at least 20,000 employees, 27 percent said their legal department handles immigration matters, while another 27 percent said global mobility or relocation areas handle them.

Employers Face Multiple Hurdles

A company’s experience with employment-based immigration is rarely straightforward, the council said. “A variety of legal and administrative hindrances can prevent employers from meeting their business objectives, ranging from delayed processing of petitions to inconsistent application of policies by government agencies.”

The processes that most delay employees’ timely immigration adjudication, by employer percentage, are:

  • U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) processing of H-1B visa petitions (79 percent).
  • U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) processing of labor-certification applications (78 percent).
  • DOL processing of prevailing-wage determinations (76 percent).
  • USCIS processing of U.S. immigrant visa petitions (73 percent).
  • USCIS processing of other U.S. temporary visa petitions (73 percent).
  • Processing of temporary visas for other countries (70 percent).
  • U.S. Department of State consular interviews (69 percent).
  • DOL processing of labor-condition applications for H-1B visas (63 percent).
  • USCIS processing of L visa petitions (51 percent).
  • Processing of permanent-status applications for other countries (51 percent).

Other frequently cited obstacles to immigration processing by responding employers, with percentages:

  • Unpredictability of visa issuance by U.S. embassies and consulates (79 percent). The unexpected denial of a visa can crop up mere days before foreign nationals travel to the U.S., disrupting business plans.
  • Inconsistency of prevailing wages for H-1B visas and labor certifications (72 percent).
  • Requests for Evidence (RFEs) for H-1B visas (70 percent). USCIS frequently issues RFEs to employers, requiring petitioners to provide more facts and documents. Employers report that RFEs are often arbitrary and ask for information they already provided, according to the council.
  • Unpredictability of temporary-visa processes in other countries (67 percent).
  • RFEs for L visas (65 percent).
  • RFEs for other temporary visas (59 percent).
  • Supervised recruitment for labor certifications (58 percent). This is an enhanced DOL audit that can significantly delay the green card process.
  • Unpredictability of permanent status in other countries (50 percent).

Finally, still more issues that inhibit employers’ ability to hire foreign talent include high filing fees, statutory visa caps, barriers to employees’ bringing family to the U.S., and the inability to obtain work authorization for visa holders’ spouses.

Large Employers Pessimistic About the Near Future

Only 12 percent of employers with 20,000-plus FTE employees have a high degree of confidence that they will get the U.S. visas they need in the next year, compared with 33 percent overall; and 67 percent have a low degree of confidence, compared with 28 percent overall.

Employers are varied in their optimism about receiving visas for countries outside the U.S. in the next year.

Of organizations with at least 20,000 FTE employees, 25 percent have a high degree of confidence that they will get the foreign visas they need in the next year, compared with 22 percent overall. Eleven percent have a low degree of confidence, compared with 9 percent overall.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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