Changing immigration policies and a resulting need for improved communication tools has led to innovations in technologies that HR professionals use for employment-based immigration work.
The proper capture, processing and storage of documents on employment eligibility and work authorization is necessary for businesses to comply with government regulations, and the recent increase in enforcement actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has put more employers at greater risk of audit. Established technology solutions such as case management software can automate complex immigration workflows and maintain audit trails.
But a more volatile immigration landscape has placed new demands on HR functions that often require more user-friendly technology solutions, experts say.
John Fay, president of the LawLogix division of Hyland Software, headquartered in Phoenix, said that in the past year, he's seen a growing focus by clients on improved communication tools for immigration issues. "They're looking to capture information faster and more intelligently in a tightening immigration market," he said. "Additional information is often being required of our HR clients today."
That has resulted in requests for improved applicant questionnaires with the ability to automatically populate data onto required forms, and mobile-friendly, global-optimized technologies that allow HR to easily complete documents or conduct business from smartphones and tablets.
LawLogix responded by building a new technology interface for both HR users and foreign nationals, Fay said. The system makes finding required documents or information easier, and it enables more efficient communication with foreign nationals during what can be a stressful application process.
"The interface is more intuitive and anticipates what type of information is typically requested and where HR can sometimes get stuck," Fay said.
San Francisco-based Pearl Law Group also recently launched a new platform, Pearl Immigration, which uses a new cloud-based technology to give HR users access to the latest immigration rules, tools, training and action items and integrates with many major HR information system platforms.
Among the key features of the platform are that it connects with the ImmigrationTracker case management system allowing users to check the status of a case in real time and securely upload documents; a knowledge base to educate managers and employees on global immigration rules; a business traveler tool to help travelers comply with country-specific immigration rules; and a vault to store documents like required postings and H-1B public-access files, to keep organizations audit-ready.
Immigration experts believe there is room for even more automation in what has historically been a labor- and paperwork-intensive process. "There are still so many processes conducted manually in immigration relative to other parts of HR," said Roman Zelichenko, co-founder and CEO of LaborLess, an immigration technology solution provider in New York City.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Understanding and Obtaining U.S. Employment Visas]
New Providers Fill Market Niches
While established technology providers such as LawLogix, ImmigrationTracker and INSZoom focus primarily on delivering full-service case management software, newer players are filling other market niches. Companies such as Docketwise, Prima Facie, CampLegal, MIMS and LaborLess offer more-specific automated solutions.
Zelichenko said his company, LaborLess, focuses primarily on automating the labor condition application (LCA) process, creating electronic LCA postings and public-access files for H-1B applications.
Employers who file an LCA are required to maintain a status file for each worker, and that file must be made available to the public at short notice upon request.
HR professionals using LaborLess can upload an initiated LCA, capture key information and create an electronic record quickly. Once the LCA record is confirmed as accurate, it can be posted electronically on a company's intranet or as a public bulletin.
"In the old way of doing things, an HR specialist handling H-1Bs might receive an e-mail containing the LCA with instructions to print it out and post it, and the same goes for a public-access file that might be sent over partially completed by an attorney," Zelichenko said. The automated process saves time by avoiding the back-and-forth e-mailing between HR and immigration attorneys, he said, and allows users to manage LCAs and public-access files in one central dashboard.
Rise of Integrated Systems
The growing use of application programming interfaces to connect different systems is another trend that is reshaping immigration technology.
"There's a bigger appetite for connecting different immigration systems today, and it's also much easier to do than in the past," Fay said. Previously implementing these interfaces might have taken up to six months, he added, but with improvements in technology, better security protocols and greater openness to partnerships, it can take less than a month.
The Department of Labor's newly modernized Foreign Labor Application Gateway portal also represents a more efficient and feature-rich system than the department's previous platform for handling application filing and case management for foreign labor certification, Fay said. But despite that improvement, the portal has yet to offer the kind of application programming interfaces seen in the private-vendor market.
Innovations on the Horizon
Immigration technology may soon see another innovation that has made inroads in other areas of HR technology: predictive analytics tools. When processing immigration applications, HR captures significant amounts of data that might be used to aid future cases, Fay said.
For example, filing an H-1B visa for a registered nurse might be a challenging proposition today, but software that could analyze data from related applications previously processed could improve the odds of success.
"Predictive analytics might illustrate how an application worked successfully with a nurse with certain credentials at a particular service center in the past," Fay said. "The artificial intelligence and machine learning could tell you, based on the particular details of a situation, that you have 'X' percent chance of getting a case approved and how to go about making it happen."
Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.