Tapping into the Global Talent Market

Sep 1, 2016

Lynn Shotwell, Executive Director, Council for Global Immigration, and Andrew Yewdell, Global Immigration Specialist, Council for Global Immigration

Lynn Shotwell has served as executive director for the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI) since 2004. She began her career at CFGI in 1996 as legal counsel and director of government relations. Ms. Shotwell has served on steering committees and boards of numerous organizations, including the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange, Compete America, Multinational Employers for Working Spouses, and the Executive Working Group on Global Mobility Policies. She is a frequent lecturer on global mobility policies and practices and has testified before the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank, the International Organization on Migration, and the Global Commission on International Migration. Prior to joining CFGI, Ms. Shotwell practiced immigration law at Arent Fox and worked in the human resources department at Oldsmobile. She received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan.

Andrew Yewdell is a member of CFGI's Government Affairs team and supports CFGI's initiatives related to employment-based immigration policy at the international governmental level as well as in trade agreements and countries outside the United States. Previously, he helped administer CFGI's J-1 Exchange Visitor Program and assisted with global immigration research. Prior to joining CFGI, Mr. Yewdell developed and coordinated online international exchange programs and worked as an immigration paralegal. He holds a B.A. in comparative politics and a certificate in Near Eastern studies from Princeton University.

Globalization and innovation affect all employers—large and small, non- and for-profit, multinational and local; however, globalization and innovation stall without the cross-border movement of human capital. In fact, 86% of employers say that a timely, predictable and flexible migration system is critical to their business objectives.1 That so many employers rely on well-managed migration is to be expected, but that 14% can be blind to this need is surprising.

Even if a firm does not file visa applications for its own employees, the efficient delivery of goods and services almost certainly depends on foreign talent somewhere in the supply chain (or future workforce). The increasing complexity and uncertainty of migration policies around the world, coupled with the heightened scrutiny of the employment practices of firms and their suppliers, mean that effective migration policies and processes should matter to us all.

The Competition for Talent Is Real and Global

It's widely accepted that human capital spurs the competitiveness of employers and economies. The World Economic Forum contends that "human capital is critical not only to the productivity of society, but also the functioning of its political, social and civic institutions."2 Yet the demand for high-skilled labor is growing faster than supply, with 38 to 40 million fewer workers with advanced education than employers will need worldwide.3 

CEOs identify human capital as the issue that most keeps them up at night.4 Employers report difficulty filling critical positions, not only for the well-publicized STEM positions, but also for managers and executives and skilled trades.5 In the United States, nearly three out of four HR professionals expect skilled worker shortages to have a major impact on the workforce over the next five years.6

Unprecedented demographic shifts currently taking place around the world exacerbate skills shortages as well as shift market opportunities. A rapidly aging population will shrink the domestic pool of talent in developed markets and create demand for new services, while growing populations in Africa and parts of Asia will create more demand for education and other household products and services. Matching talent to demand across borders is one of the greatest human capital challenges of the 21st century.

A multi-pronged approach is needed to develop domestic talent while attracting foreign talent. For much of the past decade, forward-thinking governments have sought to attract skilled workers, students and entrepreneurs by streamlining their migration processes. They realize that policies that facilitate the entry of high-skilled talent contribute to a competitive economy and provide jobs for local workers. 

The European Union is currently exploring policies to attract the "workers that the EU economy needs" as part of the European Agenda on Migration.7 The Australian government has similarly recognized that "highly skilled migrants are critical for a strong and vibrant economy, bringing know-how, innovation and entrepreneurship and also helping to plug short-term skills gaps." As such, they are devising migration reforms and policy enhancements to better attract talented immigrants. Discussions on talent mobility are also taking place in international forums, such as the G20, United Nations and Global Forum on Migration and Development, and in trade negotiations.

Although most governments recognize the need for innovative migration policies, efforts at reform are complicated by a growing backlash from the public, organized labor and civil society organizations voicing concerns that employers use foreign labor to undercut wages and opportunities for local workers. Of particular concern are situations where brokers recruit vulnerable foreign laborers, often charging exorbitant fees, seizing travel documents and leaving the workers in a state of indentured servitude.8 

Unethical recruitment and forced labor merit international attention, but high-skilled migration includes a population that is far less vulnerable to such exploitative practices and is a distinct issue for the most part. Nonetheless, the confluence of these disparate issues puts the spotlight on multinational employers who are expected to exercise best practices in managing the global hiring practices of their organizations and their suppliers.

Global Challenges: Policy Uncertainty and Increased Scrutiny

The ability to get the right talent to the right place at the right time can make or break a business deal. Unfortunately, employers are often hamstrung by migration policies and processes that obstruct the timely, predictable and flexible access to talent. Barriers to the free movement of talent can be caused by outdated polices and quotas, ever-changing policies that disrupt plans overnight and nonexistent or inconsistently implemented policies.

In the U.S., the insufficient H-1B cap and annual limits on green cards create a talent bottleneck, preventing employers from hiring the highly skilled immigrants they need. In Canada, the recent overhaul of the permanent and temporary migration systems has slowed the flow of talent to a trickle. South Africa's introduction of new migration laws in 2014 led to inconsistent policies and crippling uncertainty for employers. Other emerging and frontier markets lack migration infrastructure to accommodate modern business needs, leaving employers without a predictable means for deploying and hiring foreign talent. Global business is accelerating, but considerable barriers to labor mobility persist, preventing employers from optimally participating in the global marketplace.

This uncertain environment coincides with a parallel trend of enhanced scrutiny and enforcement. As governments implement more sophisticated electronic tracking systems and invest in more audits of employer records, even brief, casual and innocent work without the proper permits can result in fines, debarment, reputational damage and even criminal penalties for senior executives or globally mobile employees.

In May 2015, the U.K. Prime Minister announced plans to create new labor market enforcement agency and new recruitment regulations with the aim of reducing net immigration.9 Nigeria recently passed a migration law that establishes stricter penalties for noncompliance and increased reporting requirements.10 The German government has increasingly scrutinized applications for work permit extensions and increased onsite compliance audits.11 These cases are just a small sample of a pervasive trend.

When managing global talent operations, work and residency permit compliance should not be the only area of concern. Employers should carefully monitor compliance with tax laws, anticorruption laws, such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the U.K. Bribery Act, and laws regulating international labor recruitment, such as the recent U.K. Modern Slavery Act. In some cases, vigilance must extend to supply chain management, as with the California Supply Chain Transparency Act and the anti-human-trafficking Federal Acquisition Regulation affecting federal contractors.

What Employers Need to Do

We know that employers need timely, predictable and flexible policies, but the Council for Global Immigration's Employer Immigration Metrics Survey quantifies how much it matters in terms of time and money. In 2013, the top five employers surveyed spent $800,000-$1,305,733 on U.S. government fees alone. Employers also reported spending five times longer on visa paperwork than U.S. government estimates.12 After all this, employers must wait weeks, months and even years to obtain all necessary permits. Employers are willing to invest time and money and wait out processing because talent mobility is critical to their business operations.

In light of the substantial investment and challenging regulatory environment, employers should heed three key lessons:

  • Prioritize compliance. Talent mobility is being scrutinized like never before. Employers must carefully adhere to all regulations because the consequences of noncompliance or haphazard work are significant.
  • Managing global mobility is time-consuming and uncertain. Migration processes do not happen overnight, and outcomes are rarely guaranteed. Unexpected obstacles can delay hiring or deployment of critical foreign employees. Expectations must be managed to prepare for potential delays, and contingency plans should be developed.
  • Push governments and public opinion. Employment-based migration is a pillar of the globalized economy and driver of growth and jobs, but it is also highly politicized. Employers should educate governments and skeptical publics on the benefits to all of a well-regulated migration system.
Working together we can create a system that meets the needs of the 21st century economy.


1.     Council for Global Immigration. (2014). Employer Immigration Metrics: 2014 Survey Results. Retrieved from http://forms.shrm.org/forms/2014-cfgi-employer-immigration-survey

2.     World Economic Forum. (2015). The Human Capital Report 2015. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Human_Capital_Report_2015.pdf

3.     McKinsey & Company. (2012, June). The World at Work: Jobs, Pay, and Skills for 3.5 Billion People. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/employment_and_growth/the_world_at_work

4.     The Conference Board. (2015, January). CEO Challenge 2015: Top 5 Global Challenges. Retrieved from www.conference-board.org/ceo-challenge/index.cfm?id=28618

5.     Society for Human Resource Management. (2014, October). Economic Conditions – Recruiting and Skills Gaps. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/pages/shrm-economic-conditions-recruiting-skill-gaps.aspx.

Mauer, R. (2015, June). Skilled Trades Jobs Hardest to Fill Worldwide. SHRM Online. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/staffingmanagement/articles/pages/skilled-trades-jobs-hardest-to-fill.aspx

6.     Society for Human Resource Management. (2013). SHRM Workplace Forecast. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/Research/FutureWorkplaceTrends/Documents/13-0146%20Workplace_Forecast_FULL_FNL.pdf

7.     European Commission. (2015, May). European Agenda on Migration. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/index_en.htm

8.     ManpowerGroup & Verité. (2012). An Ethical Framework for Cross-Border Labor Recruitment: An Industry/Stakeholder Collaboration to Reduce the Risks of Forced Labor and Human Trafficking. Retrieved from http://www.verite.org/sites/default/files/ethical_framework_paper_20120209_PRINTED.pdf

9.     UK Government. (2015, May). Prime Minister Pledges to Control and Reduce Immigration [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-pledges-to-control-and-reduce-immigration

10.  Fragomen Worldwide. (2015, June). New Law Imposes Stricter Requirements and Penalties for Employers. Retrieved from http://www.fragomen.com/knowledge-center/immigration-alerts#!23441

11.  Fragomen Worldwide. (2015, February). Work Permit Extensions Subject to Stricter Review; Increase in On-Site Compliance Audits. Retrieved from http://www.fragomen.com/knowledge-center/immigration-alerts#!21856

12.  Council for Global Immigration. (2014). Employer Immigration Metrics: 2014 Survey Results. Retrieved from http://forms.shrm.org/forms/2014-cfgi-employer-immigration-survey

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