Viewpoint: Immigration and You

Staying grounded in this time of turmoil

By Lynn Shotwell Jan 31, 2017
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​Everywhere you turn these days, immigration is in the news. Here are three headlines of many from just one recent morning…

  • "Trump's Immigration Actions Mark Sharp Shift in U.S. Policy"
  • "Nonprofits Using H-1B Visa Program Face Uncertainty"
  • "EU trade chief slams Trump on immigration"

For HR practitioners who deal with employment-based immigration, these are anxious times. On the one hand, we have widespread agreement that our immigration system is in need of reform.  On the other, it is not clear the changes now being made will contribute to a 21st century workplace that is innovative, fair and competitive.

Here are three steps to help you stay ahead of the curve during this uncertain time.

Survey Your Landscape

Many HR professionals are using this time to get their arms around how their workforces may be impacted by immigration reforms. Do you have new hires who will need visas or employees on temporary work permits that will need to be renewed? Do these employees have ties to countries of concern or are their visas on the chopping block for reform?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Administration

For more information about Donald Trump's workplace policies and how they affect HR professionals, check out the SHRM resources provided below:

· SHRM's post-election coverage
· Trump's work policies · First 100 days

Do you have any employees who will be travelling abroad from the United States, including U.S. citizens? What are your procedures for tracking them or assisting them in the event of an emergency? Do you have employees or visitors coming to the United States? What policies do you have in place surrounding visa sponsorship or support for employees or their family members who have challenges entering or remaining in the United States?

When tracking these issues, take care that you do not inadvertently run afoul of laws against national origin or citizenship discrimination. You may wish to seek legal advice about the best ways to identify how current or proposed changes might impact your workforce needs and put appropriate policies in place.

Many employers are also seeking to reassure employees of their commitment to a diverse and inclusive global workforce by issuing statements or hosting listening sessions. Consider what steps make sense for your organization.

Pay Attention to the Details

One of the biggest issues immigration and HR professionals are facing in the short term is the risk of enhanced scrutiny of our compliance practices. In other words, make sure you get the details right. The routine paperwork that you all touch–such as filling out I-9s on all employees or double checking application information for each visa filing (H-1B or PERM applications, for example)–could make the difference between success or failure for you and your organization. Ensure your foreign employees have not taken on additional duties or moved to locations not approved on their original applications, and make certain they are receiving appropriate wages and benefits.  

While civil and criminal penalties attach to fraud and misrepresentation in the immigration context, even minor paperwork errors can be costly. Consider undertaking a self-audit of your files to ensure you are in compliance before the government knocks on your door.

Stay Connected

Every day brings fresh news of changes to the U.S. immigration system, prompting additional concerns for HR professionals. There is no reason to think this pace will slow down anytime soon. You can read my thoughts on the first round of changes on the Council for Global Immigration's (CFGI's) website. Rest assured that CFGI is working hard to stay on top what has changed–and what has not.

Even if you are the only HR person at your organization who deals with immigration, you are not alone. Around the country–indeed, around the globe–there are thousands of your peers who are facing the same challenges you face. Connect with them to learn from their experiences, share your own or just vent a little.

You can start by checking with your SHRM chapter to see if they have an immigration committee or other special group. Join the CFGI LinkedIn community to connect with other immigration professionals eager to build their networks. Visit CFGI's U.S. News and Alerts page frequently to separate the headlines from the actual changes. And follow us on Twitter (@Global_imm) as we contribute to the conversation around changes in U.S. employment-based immigration.

One small piece of good news: While the President can issue a certain number of executive orders that affect your jobs, most fundamental changes must be the result of federal rulemaking or legislation, both of which take a while. That doesn't mean the President's actions won't have real impact on your work, but it does mean that by staying alert you can prepare for what's ahead. 

In the meantime, if I can be helpful at any point, please contact me directly at Lynn.Shotwell@cfgi.org.

Lynn Shotwell is executive director of the Council for Global Immigration, a SHRM affiliate.

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