HR Professionals Need Visa Skills in Contest for Global Talent
By Genevieve Douglas
HR professionals navigating the complexities of hiring high-skilled foreign workers need additional immigration expertise because the rules for the H-1B visa program continue to change.
‘‘The H-1B visa is an essential tool for companies in hyper-competitive industries like mine,” Mark O’Neill, chief technology officer at online retailer MM.LaFleur, told Bloomberg Law. ‘‘I can think of five key employees in the last several years that have helped me meet my professional goals, and we would not have had them without the H-1B system.”
Companies looking to hire from a global pool of talent increasingly are looking for human resources professionals with visa and immigration knowledge. And even with a working understanding of the H-1B process, HR also needs the support of an attorney who knows the ins and outs of immigration law.
As this year’s “H-1B season”concludes in mid-April, employers can start prepping for future visas and worker needs. First and foremost, navigating the H-1B process is now a team effort between immigration attorneys and the employer’s HR team, hiring manager, and maybe its legal department, Marketa Lindt, a partner with Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago, told Bloomberg Law.
New Needs for H-1Bs?
Things have changed greatly in the past year in H-1B practice and with the approach of the Trump administration’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, she said. ‘‘We have had to be very aware of the more restrictive standards USCIS is applying now to H-1Bs and adapt our approach accordingly,” she said.
Immigration lawyers find they now need a thorough understanding of the role the H-1B visa recipient will have, according to Lindt. Deeper understanding includes: the wage category, the educational requirements, the job description, the location of work, and more, Lindt said. ‘‘The days of receiving a job description from the company and using it in an H-1B support letter without analysis and further development are long behind us,” she said.
‘‘One of the things that’s been particularly challenging over the last year is the agency’s position that entry-level positions cannot be, by definition, a ‘specialty occupation,’” Lindt told Bloomberg Law. That’s been frustrating because every company has entry-level positions in jobs like engineers, technology support, and other careers, she said. ‘‘We have developed new approaches to drafting H-1Bs for entry-level positions to ensure that the professional nature of the position is clearly articulated,’’ Lindt added.
Lindt also finds that creating a backup plan for clients increasingly includes both the employer and the employee. ‘‘We are working to engage more meaningfully with the H-1B employees in the process. In this climate, the employees are much more anxious, as they are aware that the uncertainty of the H-1B process creates uncertainty in their careers and their future,” she said.
Overall, Lindt said, ‘‘it’s a balance of creating a good process, where we are efficient and minimize unnecessary back-and-forth, while developing the strongest documentation we can for each case and instilling confidence in our clients at a time when everyone is very nervous.”
Hopes for Future Processes
Looking forward, the Trump administration “has power to change this system, and it’s something I watch with trepidation because it’s an important tool in my toolkit in how I build my teams,” O’Neill told Bloomberg Law. ‘‘I’m worried about how that will affect our competitive edge and how American businesses will fall out as a result.”
O’Neill’s overall goal would be to create a visa and immigration process that enables employers to ‘‘attract the best talent and grow our businesses as quickly as possible” by allowing businesses to move in this sphere more easily and more openly, with less overhead, he said.
The system as it exists today is tailored to large employers, O’Neill said. ‘‘This is a really complex system to navigate” for someone in HR at a small organization who may not have the knowledge and resources to successfully petition for workers.
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