Viewpoint: Show Steadfast Grit in Today’s Immigration Climate


By Sophia Johnykutty January 11, 2019

​It's 3 a.m., and you are roused from sleep by a phone call from a frantic employee who is stuck outside of the United States and is unable to re-enter to start work on a critical multimillion-dollar project. If you're a global-mobility manager, this is probably not the first immigration emergency call you've received this year. Today's immigration environment, with its rapidly shifting terrain, laser focus on regulatory compliance, and sometimes dire consequences for small infractions or a missed deadline, is a perfect arena to test your grit.

U.S. work authorization, business travel and compliance with Form I-9 mandates have become increasingly challenging in the past few years. Regulations and policies are changing, and once-predictable outcomes are no longer guaranteed. Despite the challenges, ensuring that company personnel are able to carry out their assignments smoothly and on time is your responsibility.

"Steadfast grit" refers to an individual's passion for a specific goal, coupled with a powerful determination to achieve it. How can you a maintain a positive outlook when managing your employer's U.S. global-mobility program during these trying times? Here are a few recommendations.

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Be in the Know

Build your reputation as the U.S. global-mobility contact person within your organization. You may have to host several lunch-and-learns around the office, but this will ensure that your global-mobility program remains a primary concern for your organization's C-suite leaders. Get involved in project discussions as early as possible. The earlier you know about a project on the horizon, the sooner you can leverage your immigration provider's services and begin strategizing. 

Prep Your Travelers

Let them know what to expect. Business visitors entering the U.S. to attend a three-day meeting should not be traveling with two large, heavy suitcases (even if they contain only gifts). Business travelers are subject to heightened scrutiny for evidence that they may overstay their visas. Cellphones, laptops and other electronic devices may be searched and even confiscated under U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidelines, so think about how to keep travelers informed about how to prepare for such searches. Employees' social media profiles should match company records and information presented in the immigration package.

Inform and Educate

Employees seeking U.S. work authorization should read the immigration package and information provided by their attorneys. "Too long; didn't read" or "Too much information" are not acceptable reasons for not following important attorney recommendations regarding company information or procedural requirements.

Design a Plan and Implement Policies

Train staff on global-mobility protocols. If labor or immigration authorities make a site visit, does your receptionist know whom to call? If a manager is asked to sign a letter on behalf of a contractor for "visa processing," will he or she know what to do? Give everyone—even the backup receptionist or security guard—your contact information.

Despite the unpredictability of today's immigration climate, maintaining a positive outlook and the motivation to achieve your company's global-mobility and compliance goals is within your control. Thoughtful planning will set a solid foundation for your organization's immigration program and enable you to handle emergencies, like the 3 a.m. phone calls, with confidence—or prevent such instances altogether.

Sophia Johnykutty is a senior associate in the Houston office of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP.


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