Envoy Global: Business immigration compliance under the microscope

Is your business complying with immigration laws? Nations around the world are increasingly focusing on immigration; ensuring businesses maintain their immigration policies are increasingly essential.

US immigration compliance laws
As the global political landscape continues to reshape itself on a monthly basis, organisations that have expanded their workforces across borders would be wise to keep a close eye on compliance. 

The importance of global mobility

Between global changes like Brexit, heightened attention to immigration practices and international treaties being called into question, the landscape is shifting under our feet.Never has there been a more critical moment to ensure your company is acting in accordance with and staying up to date on changes in immigration law in jurisdictions across the globe.While the world’s politics are taking a somewhat nationalist turn, business practices seem to be going in the opposite direction. Global mobility and cross-border work environments have become not only more common, but more desirable as well.According to PwC’s Talent Mobility 2020 Report, 71 per cent of millennials want and expect an overseas assignment at some point during their career. The ability to mobilise talent internationally has become an effective strategy for recruiting and retention.Companies aren’t simply seeing value in international mobilisation, but they’re also seeing that there are benefits to hiring international employees as well. According to Envoy’s 2017 Immigration Trends Report, 91 per cent of employers said that sourcing foreign national employees is important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy. This trend is becoming more and more pertinent as US-based organisations face skills gaps and a growing labor shortage among American workers.
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Companies are looking beyond national borders to find the most qualified talent and to stay globally competitive. 77 per cent said it was very important to develop a global workforce to fill skills gaps within, while 72 per cent of companies surveyed in the Envoy 2017 Immigration Trends Report said that international transfers are critical to managing and expanding their global business, while organisation. As businesses continue to leverage the opportunity that comes with a truly global workforce, they are also trying to more proactively manage the challenges that come with it. What was once overlooked or deprioritised based on bandwidth and resources, has become a priority as the new White House has publicised its interest in stopping and preventing the misuse of US immigration programs.That’s why, for global companies, compliance is the buzzword of the year.

Policy changes in US immigration

With new tools and programmes being announced nearly every month to assist immigration officials in identifying and investigating visa program violators, staying compliant is not as simple as it sounds. The trend in the US is toward stronger, more impressive enforcement of immigration laws. Case in point: This year, a budget of $4.6 billion was requested by the Trump administration to enhance immigration enforcement. This request includes roughly $300 million made available hire 1,500 new enforcement officers and $7.2 million to hire 40 new immigration-focused prosecutors.While much of this will be allocated toward illegal immigration, the current implementation of immigration law and regulation enforcement has been scrutinised.This critical lenses has been directed at one of the most popular visa types for globalizing companies: the H-1B. In April, a string of announcements were made about new compliance mechanisms, including increased site visits for H-1B petitioners, enhanced rigour in enforcement by the Department of Labor and President Trump signed an executive order, which requested agencies to propose new rules and issue new guidance “to protect the interest of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system.”The bottom line for companies? Make sure your internal immigration practices are compliant, your records are accurate, and your employees are prepared.

How to manage a global workforce

Clear company-wide policies around visa sponsorship, both for entry and permanent residency visas, and relocation are crucial to ensuring compliance. The entire employee lifecycle should be considered when deploying a global workforce, whether you’re hiring foreign national employees or sending employees on overseas assignments.Too often, international travel occurs without notifying HR, leaving the company exposed to noncompliance in a foreign jurisdiction. The consequences of noncompliance overseas can be catastrophic for a growing organisation.The offending employee could face fines or even detention, while the company could face larger fines or be barred from doing business in critical regions around the world. So, what do HR professionals need to know? Centralise your global workforce management and record keeping to keep a watchful eye over compliance – for employees in the US and abroad.If your workforce includes foreign national employees in the US, then your attention to compliance doesn’t end with visa issuance.Employers must understand the conditions of their foreign national employees’ ability to work in the US. For example, when there’s a change in a foreign national employee’s status – from termination to salary changes to something as simple as a shift in responsibilities – you may be obligated to inform specific authorities. How can you keep track of changes in status? Using technology to send automated notifications is a start. And including immigration law expertise in your global workforce management is essential to help you navigate and prioritise deadlines, the retention of mandatory documentation and policy changes.

Impact of corporate restructuring on immigrants

Most employers know that common employment-based visas are company specific. But too often, restructuring within the company can trigger changes that may result in the organisation and foreign national employees being out of compliance with US immigration law.Changes in company name, relocations and reorganisation within the company require the creation and retention of certain documents and the company may be required to affirmatively report certain changes to particular authorities, depending on an employee’s visa category. But in many cases, these changes slip by without being reviewed because many employers don’t understand their legal obligations and how their uninformed inaction may be putting the company’s ability to participate in US immigration programs at risk.Many legal issues are reviewed prior to a company’s restructuring. This period of preparation is the time when company-wide immigration compliance issues that require the employer to take certain actions should be routinely considered and planned for.Employers should review how the restructuring would impact the job of every single sponsored employee at the company. That includes nonimmigrant visas like the H-1B and L-1, as well as lawful permanent residents (green card holders). This is when expert immigration legal counsel comes in.By providing a list of the impacted foreign nationals an attorney can determine what actions, such as updating certain records or filing new applications, must be taken at the time of a corporate restructuring. Best practice tells us that companies should perform a comprehensive immigration audit and get input from immigration legal counsel before any corporate restructuring takes effect. Doing so can save organisations from interruptions in essential projects due to lapses in employees’ ability to work and having to pay fines for violations, to companies being barred from sponsoring foreign national employees in the future.These issues also extend to mergers and acquisitions. If a company is acquired, for example, and the purchasing company does not accept particular liabilities of the acquired company that may leave questions in regards to whether the purchasing company has agreed to accept the mandatory terms and conditions of the sponsored foreign nationals’ employment.Not having given that information to your attorney to review and assess could leave sponsored employees, and the entire company, vulnerable.If, in another example, your restructuring is set up so that continuing employees are treated as new employees, new I-9s within certain time constraints may need to be signed. If not, the organisation could face penalties for violations that extend beyond immigration law.This is another area that calls for an audit. Review the I-9s of foreign nationals before the restructuring occurs so you can be prepared for the actions you need to take quickly thereafter.

Prepare for immigration audits

Even if you’re sure you’re not in violation of the law, your organisation is still subject to an audit. Every year, multiple government agencies responsible for different aspects of immigration select visa petitioners (employers) for compliance investigations and audits.While most investigations may arise from allegations of wrongdoing, others are conducted at random During the investigation, the authorities request to see documentation and other immigration-related information, and may even request to speak with sponsored foreign national employees to search for discrepancies.Further, an investigation into any one of your sponsored employees could mean that one of your worksites will get a visit from a USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) official as part of the overall immigration audit.It’s important that any company is prepared, but USCIS has stated that organisations that have a high number of visa holders placed at outside third-party worksites, such as client or vendors, are more likely to be targets of investigations.Generally, you will not be notified of the government’s intent to investigate or audit your company. Your first notice may be when an officer arrives at your reception desk, or it could be after an officer has already interviewed foreign national employees, taken photographs of the worksite, reviewed documents, and talked to other personnel to verify information.Though a visit from a government officer doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a compliance issue (remember, some investigations may be conducted at random), it does mean that any issues that exist could be uncovered.The best way to prepare for a visit like this is to create a plan beforehand detailing the roles of important personnel, back-up scenarios and responsibilities of those involved.The first tasks once an officer is on site should be to contact your attorney. Far too frequently well-intentioned HR professionals just trying to be helpful end up causing more harm than good. An officer’s kind assurance that an investigation is merely routine or that there is nothing to worry about, should not persuade a company from notifying and being represented by legal counsel throughout an investigation.That way, you can make sure you’re not missing any critical information, which could put you at risk or raise red flags.This article was prepared by Envoy Global the global immigration services provider. For further information on US immigration, permits and visas visit https://www.envoyglobal.com/.Interested in learning more? Read Envoy’s Compliance Guide for the latest in immigration best practices. Read all the latest relocation news in our Autumn 2017 magazine.For related news and features, visit our Immigration section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centre

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