Global mobility and immigration facing perfect storm

Businesses must work more closely with mobility and immigration experts when planning international moves, said Julia Onslow-Cole, head of PwC’s global immigration team, at the Global Expansion Summit.

Julia Onslow-Cole at GXP2017
The challenges companies are experiencing when moving people across borders are only going to get worse. This was the message from Julia Onslow-Cole, head of PwC’s global immigration team, at the 2017 Global Expansion Summit, in London.“We see political pressure from governments all around the world to tighten immigration rules in non-statutory ways – for example, by tightening up existing rules to make it harder to secure visas and to cross borders,” Ms Onslow-Cole said.“At the same time, we have businesses who increasingly want to send people across national boundaries and young people who expect to travel as part of their job. We are up against a perfect storm.”

Avoiding the risks during global expansion

Citing the example of a call taken late one Friday from a global mobility director, Julia Onslow-Cole described the difficulties of moving large teams of people at very short notice, and avoiding key risks, such as inadvertent permanent establishment and tax implications.The Brexit negotiations, US immigration policy in flux and the fast-changing crisis in Qatar also underscore the need for immigration expertise and timely information, as well as consultation at government-level to ensure businesses have access to the skills they need.

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Influencing decision-makers

A member of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Brexit Advisory Group, and having given evidence as a key expert on migration to the European Parliament, Julia Onslow-Cole was able to demonstrate the positive impact of migration on local economies and the business-critical need for skills mobility.Drawing on economic analysis from PwC in partnership with campaign group London First based on ten years’ data, she highlighted that, on average, a migrant worker in a full-time job in London contributed an additional £46,000 net in GVA (gross value-added) each year to the economy. The additional GVA generated by ten migrant-worker jobs supported an additional four jobs in the wider economy.Ms Onslow-Cole also gave the example of the construction industry and the importance of migration. In London, the sector employees nearly 300,000 builders, developers, contractors and engineers. Half were born in the UK, 30 per cent were EU born, and 20 were born elswhere in the world. With Brexit and a fifth of UK-born construction workers reaching retirement age in the next five years, this skills deficit is projected to deepen.

Challenges ahead

The political wrangling over immigration is likely to create a very challenging picture for employers. EU chief negotiator Guy Verhofstad’s absolute requirement for EU citizens in the UK to maintain their current rights, supported by the European Courts of Justice (ECJ), is at odds with the UK’s Brexit plans.“The ECJ point is important, and therefore it will be quite difficult to resolve and for the UK to back down,” commented Ms Onslow-Cole.Adding to the challenges for global mobility are the evolving iterations of Donald Trump’s emergency immigration measures. The latest of these have just been announced.Recalling the uncertainty and challenge of the first round of changes, Ms Onslow-Cole said, “The travel ban came out of the blue. As the US Embassy put something up on its website, it would have to change it again. It was a constantly changing situation.”
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The rollback of the H1B visa – “the lifeblood of Silicon Valley” – was already seeing companies taking work back to India, added Ms Onslow-Cole, while in China the newly online visa and work permit process was creating further obstacles for companies looking to deploy people on assignment. Employers were reporting it was taking six to eight months to get a visa.“It is a very challenging picture for global mobility. The challenge is that we are being squeezed by the geopolitical landscape and businesses wanting flexibility. But we have to keep companies compliant,” she said.

Responding through planning, technology and insight

One of the solutions is the nascent field of data analytics and asking the right questions to get visa-ready for groups of people with particular skills. This encourages companies to engage with mobility and immigration expertise early.For mobility, therefore, “It’s about persuading decision-makers to give the heads up quickly to avoid blocks and delays.”PwC is one company that has developed apps to give rapid insight into the likely immigration considerations of assignments, and to track them. While these responses are a good start, the challenge will be in continuing to adapt to these testing times.Julia Onslow-Cole said, “Regretfully, I think the current climate is only going to make it harder for immigration and global mobility.”
Fiona Murchie, Relocate Global’s managing editor, was moderator and chairperson of the Global Sourcing, Logistics and Mobility sessions at the Global Expansion (GXP) Summit in London.

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