How US Employers Are Handling the Prospect of a More Restrictive Immigration Policy

How US Employers Are Handling the Prospect of a More Restrictive Immigration Policy

Cracking down on both legal and illegal immigration was a centerpiece of US President Donald Trump’s campaign platform last year, and his administration has taken several steps to act on that agenda by stepping up enforcement actions against undocumented immigrants and their employers; attempting to suspend the admission of refugees, immigrants, and visitors from certain countries; and talking about policy changes to limit the number of H-1B visas for temporary skilled foreign workers (but not yet making any of those changes).

While US immigration policy has not been significantly altered in the first five months of the Trump administration, many still expect the legal and enforcement landscape to evolve further as the administration moves ahead with its policy plans. As business leaders know, the expectation of changes to come can have nearly as much of an impact on the labor market as changes themselves. For instance, Indian IT professionals, who are overwhelmingly the main recipients of H-1B visas, are considering leaving the US and looking for work in other countries in advance of any practical changes to the visa regime.

Employers, too, are making preparations for a reality in which H-1B talent is much less plentiful or harder to obtain. Workforce contributor Michelle Rafter takes a look at some of the strategies companies are using to prepare for a policy change they see as highly likely:

U.S. companies are bypassing potential H-1B problems by increasing hiring in their overseas offices. Nicole Sahin runs a staffing firm that helps major U.S. companies and fast-growth startups hire salespeople in 140 countries. In the past six months, Sahin said she has seen a 30 percent jump in clients sending foreign nationals back to their home countries or hiring locally, all direct responses to coming changes to the H-1B. …

Uncertainty about the visa program could push employers to embrace the gig economy and hire independent contractors, said Yvette Cameron, senior vice president for strategy and corporate development for SAP/SuccessFactors. If employers were using H-1Bs to lower costs, using gig workers who aren’t eligible for benefits or pensions is another way to keep labor costs low, said Cameron, whose job puts her in touch with thousands of SAP/SuccessFactors customers. …

Stepping up domestic programs to encourage STEM studies could help fill the gap left by fewer foreign grad students coming here. Companies have gotten used to hiring “plug and play” employees who can hit the ground running from day one, said Ron Hira, an H-1B expert and political science professor at Howard University. Getting government to subsidize on-the-job training “might be a way to fill genuine gaps,” Hira said.

In addition to staffing up their overseas offices, some US employers, particularly tech companies, are exploring the possibility of opening new ones, Talent Economy’s Lauren Dixon adds:

According to Envoy Global Inc.’s survey, “Immigration Trends Report 2017,” 21 percent of respondents are relocating work overseas, 30 percent have had to increase budgets to address immigration challenges and 25 percent have increased staff in response to these issues. Only 17 percent of respondents don’t see the immigration system having an impact on their hiring and retention strategies, the survey by the Chicago-based global workforce management enterprise platform specializing in immigration said. …

“We really do have a talent shortage and a people shortage, overall,” [Envoy’s Jamie] Gilpin said. “These types of creative ways that employers are thinking about their organizational structure is really giving them an ability to open up talent pools that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.” By opening a satellite office, other visa options could become available, Gilpin said, one of which is the L-1B visa, which allows for a U.S. employer to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge from an affiliated foreign office to the U.S.

Opening a satellite office abroad is typically a last resort for employers, Gilpin tells Dixon, not a preferential choice. But if other countries see opportunity in the US’s turn toward tighter immigration policies, they can offer employers enticements to do so. Canada, for example, is aggressively courting US companies as well as skilled professionals to entice them to relocate to its growing tech hubs in Vancouver and Toronto.