3 Ways HR Leaders Can Stay Ahead of Changing Immigration Policies

By Peggy Smith

May. 22, 2019

Listen to an intense conversation among people-management professionals these days and there’s a good chance the discussion will include immigration.

Organizations are constantly subject to changing regulations and high-stakes political developments affecting the growing global workforce, making immigration a huge pain point, surpassing even costs as a concern in some quarters.

Global uncertainty, changes in H-1B visa availability and countless other immigration-related factors make worldwide recruiting increasingly complex. At the same time, historically low unemployment, widening skills gaps, an aging workforce and the desire to be more diverse and inclusive to compete effectively in a global economy have increased demand for foreign-born workers.

U.S. Census Bureau data show that about 17 percent of the workforce is foreign-born, and without international migration, nearly 45 percent of the nation’s population would be in shrinking regions, with economic concerns related to population decline.

Without an influx of immigrants, the total U.S. population of working-age adults is expected to decline over the next 20 years. It’s clear that HR professionals need a way to prepare for a changing immigration landscape to recruit the talent they need. Here are three tips on how to be prepared.

  1. Build broad support for a diverse workforce. Organizations pursue diversity and inclusion initiatives for a variety of reasons, including a desire to improve employee morale, a sense of social responsibility, greater internal parity and a drive to appeal to a diverse customer base. In addition to these worthy objectives, a growing body of evidence suggests diversity improves performance and competitive standing.

A Barron’s article published earlier this year cites two studies demonstrating diversity’s value. The studies found gender diversity improves investment performance from 4 to 10 percent—and diverse leadership teams outperformed peers on profitability by 21 percent, and on value creation by 27 percent.

Building broad support for a diverse workforce across the organization is critical, not only for gaining buy-in for corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives, but also to prepare for changes in immigration regulations which make recruiting more expensive and time-consuming. With a strong commitment to diversity, company leaders are more likely to allocate the necessary resources.

  1. Stay current on trends and events by following industry sources. Most HR professionals have enough on their plate already and struggle to find time to research immigration policy proposals and keep close tabs on political developments which may affect employment-based immigration programs. This is especially true for those who manage large, global workforces.

One way to stay up to date without investing an inordinate amount of time in research is to follow a variety of industry sources for immigration policy news. In some cases, sectors adjacent to employment-based immigration might spot trends before HR outlets identify an emerging pattern and alert their readers and followers. Immigration law associations frequently provide a roundup on the status of proposed regulations and court cases impacting employment-based immigration.

  1. Prepare policies and workforce strategy for changes. A Pearl Law Group survey conducted last year found 68 percent of employers felt their strategic talent planning has been impacted by recent immigration changes. That’s unlikely to change as long as immigration remains a polarizing political issue around the world. HR leaders who acknowledge uncertainty is the new normal can be more prepared than their peers who are caught off guard by changing immigration regulations. Engaging in what-if scenarios and preparing for likely contingencies can put forward-thinking companies ahead of competitors in the war for global talent. For example, exploring remote working policies can expand the pool of available employees to include offsite candidates who can be a part of the team without relocating. HR can also work closely with counsel to develop policies to address possible scenarios, such as the judicial extension of the DACA program and changes in H-1B visa administration.

A recent National Foundation for American Policy analysis underscored the scope of the challenge HR professionals face on immigration, reporting on a recent spike in visa denials in the United States. The denial rate for visa extensions rose from 4 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Over that same time, rejection rates for visa petitions rose from 10 percent to 32 percent.

These changes are happening against a backdrop of a decrease in the number of visa applicants and independent of specific changes in policies or laws. That emphasizes the need for HR professionals to proactively address employment-based immigration policies.

By building a commitment to a diverse workforce, staying informed on trends, and gaming out possible scenarios and strategies to future-proof policies, HR leaders can stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing environment.

Peggy Smith is president and CEO of Worldwide ERC. A frequent keynoter and panelist at mobility and HR-related conferences, Smith shares her thoughts on global workforce issues, talent and skills shortages, multigenerational workplace considerations and future mobility strategy.

Peggy Smith is president and CEO of Worldwide ERC. A frequent keynoter and panelist at mobility and HR-related conferences, Smith shares her thoughts on global workforce issues, talent and skills shortages, multigenerational workplace considerations and future mobility strategy.

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