In a wide-ranging interview with Tim O’Shea, VP of Worldwide Consulting Services for Graebel Relocation Services Worldwide, Inc., we had the opportunity to get his thoughts on the results from our 2017 Immigration Trends Report survey of over 400 HR professionals. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll, late last year.
Interestingly, the survey shows that 55 percent of employers expect their foreign national headcount to increase – a 21 percentage point increase from expectations for 2016. Despite these optimistic projections, O’Shea believes there may be a disconnect between what companies need and what they’re able to accomplish when it comes to foreign nationals. While it may be too soon to tell, he believes the U.S. federal government’s potential changes to the H-1B, F1 and Permanent Resident programs can cause unease among companies that plan to relocate foreign nationals until any possible reforms are made more clear.
“We’ve been talking about immigration reform for four or five years and nothing has happened. The same rules are still in place,” he says. “The H-1B process is not broken, it just doesn’t provide enough leeway for American companies to bring in talented resources they require.”
It’s also clear that the immigration process is bound to get more complicated as countries become smarter about aligning their immigration resources and tax resources, as well as learn to be more vigilant about compliance. “There will be a bigger burden on companies sending their employees overseas, both in and out of the U.S.,” O’Shea says. “The rules are likely going to get tougher and be enforced more stringently.”
Compliance changes could fall into two different categories: Through modifications to the entire system or greater enforcement of the laws that are already in play. This could mean an increase in frequency and strictness of site visits to examine immigrants’ documentation.
“Many of our relocation clients are looking for opportunities to bring over foreign nationals for a longer period of time. They’re still hampered by immigration rules where the best they can do is to stay six years and then go through the green card process to stay here permanently,” O’Shea says.
The solution for many is to hire people in their home country and then do an intra-company transfer to another location. He cites an example of a client based in India that frequently moves its employees to the U.S. “They’re moving them to the United States, giving them localization packages, and hiring them onto local payrolls with a temporary visa that allows them to work in the U.S.,” he says. And because they are treated as local employees, they are less in need of costly assistance programs.
Some of the assistance programs include providing dependent visa or green card applications, language and cultural classes, airfare home and temporary housing – to encourage foreign nationals to relocate. More specifically, 83 percent of the survey respondents dole out benefits as part of their relocation packages, with 92 percent citing the perks being worth $6,000 or more.
In spite of the complications and costs within the immigration process, O’Shea believes that employment mobility in general will continue to increase. “This is a global economy and any company that wants to compete has to think globally, act globally,” he says, “and move their employees worldwide as needed.”
As an executive within the relocation space, O’Shea believes that in order to have a program that runs smoothly, mobility teams need to think about how well they’re working with a wide array of internal stakeholders. “Dedicating time and effort listening to stakeholders and educating them can help reduce confusion that’s bound to arise once any immigration reform takes place. Strong relationships,” he says, “are the key to success in this area.”