Ignore Immigration and Global Issues at Your Own Peril

In this campaign year, HR professionals must be attuned to workplace issues beyond U.S. borders to stay competitive and advance their careers

By Tony Lee Jul 18, 2016
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​​As part of SHRM's "Year of Advocacy," staff members of SHRM and the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), led by President and CEO Hank Jackson, attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia after attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the previous week. SHRM was the only human resources organization attending these events, representing 285,000 SHRM members.

  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​
  • For SHRM's complete coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, click​ here.​​​​​​​

Improving global workplace awareness and gaining a better understanding of U.S. immigration policies have both emerged as core issues in the 2016 presidential campaign. Yet, few HR professionals rank either as an area where they think they need to spend more time researching and staying up-to-date on new trends, which may be a costly mistake. 

Out of 14 key HR disciplines measured by SHRM in a recent survey, ranging from employee engagement and benefits planning to developing executive leadership, the need for immigration information ranked last, with 48 percent of SHRM members and 59 percent of nonmembers saying they haven't accessed information on the topic over the past 12 months. Only 5 percent of both members and nonmembers say they research immigration policies at least once a month, according to findings from SHRM's online survey of 2,377 HR professionals. Global workplace trends ranked next to last, with 44 percent of members and 50 percent of nonmembers saying they haven't reviewed information on international issues in the past year.

"The findings aren't that surprising to me, as many HR professionals confront challenges involving employee relations, compensation and benefits on a much more frequent, day-in and day-out basis," said Mike Aitken, SHRM's vice president of government affairs. "But being aware of global workplace issues should be equally as important to the HR community as more U.S. organizations add global operations and global links in their supply chains." 

For many HR professionals, being prepared for those multinational compliance and cultural issues when they arise can be the difference between career advancement and landing in the CEO's doghouse.

For example, thinking that U.S. policies extend to operations in other countries can be a critical error. "Employment at will is a great concept in the U.S., but it really doesn't exist outside the U.S.," said Donna Morris, executive vice president of customer and employee experience at Adobe in San Jose, Calif., and a SHRM board member. Among the key HR lessons she's learned: It's important to think beyond borders. 

"Keep your global lens, since internationally there can be legal entities like work councils, as well we cultural differences that need to be vetted early," Morris said.

In addition, global workplace trends often influence employment policy in the U.S. 

"Being globally aware prepares HR professionals to address these issues as part of their current non-U.S. operations, but also as part of their U.S. operations in the future, should global workplace trends inspire U.S. policies," Aitken said.

Among those SHRM members who cited immigration policies as a key concern, the topics they're most interested in include eligibility verification (I-9 forms) and visas for permanent assignments. They also seek content to help them understand how senior immigration professionals are talking about immigration more strategically, as well as information about potential changes in the laws and guidance on the fundamentals, such as understanding the basics of attaining visas for short-term assignments, including the H1-B visa, L1-visa, J-visa and B-visa and details on optional practical training.

In this presidential election, "immigration policy debates and changes to the employment verification process, as well as availability of employment-based visas, have major ramifications for the workplace, and the HR community must be engaged in this area," Aitken said.

When asked in the survey what social issues they care most about, HR professionals cite many of the same challenges being raised by presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this election year, including:

Solving aging workforce issues, including retraining and retirement planning.
Reducing or eliminating the gender pay gap.

Integrating veterans and people with disabilities more effectively into the workforce.

Other critical areas where the interests of HR are aligning with issues at the forefront of the presidential campaign include diversity and inclusion initiatives (cited as important by 100 percent of SHRM members surveyed), followed by benefits compliance (92 percent), understanding health care reform (90 percent), managing health care costs (89 percent), identifying and recruiting talent (86 percent), and improving employee engagement (83 percent). ​
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