Ever-changing immigration rules proving a headache for business talent

Global changes in immigration policy are coming so thick and fast that many corporations which move talent around the world are suddenly having to re-evaluate their global mobility programmes.

So much is going on in the immigration space, especially in the US, UK and Australia that businesses are facing a serious challenge to keep pace with regulations, costs and protocols around sending assignees overseas.

A new administration in the United States, Brexit in Europe and a growing number of countries opting for a protectionist approach means keeping up to date with immigration regulation can now be a minefield.

At Crown World Mobility we receive at least 10 immigration updates from around the world every day, so there is a lot of information to filter and little sign of that changing in the near future.

Experts in the industry certainly don’t see this protectionist trend as anything short-term – it’s something that will be here for the foreseeable future and which will have a big impact on businesses looking to move talent around the world.

In the UK, the direction of travel of the current government is pretty clear – it talks about reducing net immigration and about the country looking to attract only the ‘brightest and best’.

This reflects similar policies in the US and Australia and creates extra challenges for businesses looking to recruit global talent.

Here are three areas which are becoming a major concern for corporations running global mobility programmes – and for any business which sends talent overseas…

1 The rising costs of international assignments

Even before the 2017 Election, the UK government made changes to the Immigrations Skills Charge applied to workers moving from abroad to the UK. This means it will soon rise from £1,000 to £2,000 per person per year, despite having only recently been introduced.

This is money on top of the costs of applying for a visa in the first place – which can also amount to  thousands of pounds, and which is normally paid by the business. So the changes will have a big impact on budgets.

The reason the government charges this money is to re-invest it in the training of domestic workers to raise skills levels – yet another indication of protectionist policies ahead.

When you consider that many highly-skilled workers arrive in the UK on five-year contracts it means the cost to a business could now be as much as £15,000 per person to bring them in.

At the moment the fees only apply to people arriving from outside of the EU. But what happens after Brexit? Nobody knows for certain but there a possibility that similar rules could be applied to EU nationals.

This is on top of a rise in the NHS surcharge from £200 a year to £600 a year per person which is imminent. These additional costs are significant and are changing the environment in global mobility.

2 The increasing complexity of immigration regulation

Immigration is becoming more complicated and more time-consuming for corporations because it changes so much. Achieving compliance is a challenge but increased penalties and more regular audits have focused the attention of big business. Many corporations fear that being found to employ workers illegally has a big impact on reputation – and the media are hotter on it than ever before.

On-site visits to check visas and unannounced audits are also more common in 2017. This is not just in the US, we are seeing it in the UK too.

 3 The longer waiting time

Extra red tape around ever-more-complicated visa applications means applications are taking longer than ever to complete.

This is particularly true in the US. The length of time it now takes to process a visa because of the extra information required is a real challenge – it affects the planning of a move. There is every chance if you want someone in place by a specific date that it may not be possible.

All these changes have pushed immigration up the list of risks and considerations when sending assignee’s abroad.

More and more, companies are requiring outside help to deal with immigration issues. Whereas in the past it was an add-on job for someone in HR, now it could be a job in itself – and many businesses are outsourcing to experts.

We haven’t seen evidence yet of assignee’s being asked to self-fund the extra charges being imposed by governments – but something has to give as budgets are squeezed. So it cannot be ruled out.

What we have seen already, however, is a change in attitude to immigration. It used to be an after-thought when organising a move, a box you had to tick. Now it has moved to the top of the pile. Companies want full information on the immigration implications before deciding if a move is feasible or workable.

The concern in the industry is that businesses are starting to see immigration as a barrier to hiring talent and moving talent around the world, and that could have a big impact on global mobility programmes.

The advice from immigration experts is:

  • Plan well ahead

The process of arranging a visa and getting through immigration is taking longer and longer – so moves need to be planned a long way in advance and given a realistic time scale.

  • Budget for increasing costs

Immigration is now an expensive business. The legal fees and and charges leave businesses with a big bill and need to be carefully budgeted for.

  • Be properly prepared for audits and spot checks

It is vital that businesses have all the documents in place and easy to find when unannounced audits or visa spot checks take place. This may take some planning. If the HR manager is away on holiday, then systems need to be in place for someone else to find the relevant documents.

  • Have a contingency plan in place or the future of global mobility

Now is the time to look at training domestic talent to fill gaps which may more be more difficult to cover with overseas talent in future. How are you going to source that talent if bringing in people from abroad is more expensive? How will you develop talent, both at home and those currently working abroad?

  • Keep on top of changes to immigration rules and be aware of new trends

Many companies use external experts to keep them up to date with the myriad of changes in the immigration space. Looking at new trends can help prepare for future challenges.

For instance in South Africa there is now an extra requirement to visa applications – a repatriation clause. This requires businesses to explain what happens when the assignee returns home. Who replaces them? This is designed to encourage businesses to invest in training for local talent and is a move which other countries could soon follow.

With the right advice and preparation, there is no reason for big business to shy away from international moves which have been proved to play a major part in nurturing talent. But it is clear that immigration can no longer be an after-thought in overseas assignments and will now need to be considered far earlier in the process.

As the world changes and immigration rules fluctuate, global mobility needs to change with it.

About Jennifer Baillie-Stewart

Jennifer is a Global Compensation and Immigration Practice Leader at Crown World Mobility.

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