Recent changes in Visa restrictions in response to the economic fallout related to the COVID-19 epidemic has created many concerns for our European and Canadian customers. To address some of this anxiety, we sat down with Michael Turansick, Senior Counsel and Partner with Fragomen, a Global Immigration Law firm. Turansick is also President of the French American Chamber of Commerce – Chicago.
DSML: To what extent has COVID-19 impacted global mobility and the immigration policies that regulate the international movement of personnel?
Turansick: “The rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout much of the world triggered dramatic restrictions on international travel that disrupted global mobility operations to an extent not seen since 9/11. Restrictions on entry, mandatory quarantine periods, reduction or elimination of essential consular services all rendered normal business travel practically impossible for the past few months. Although many parts of the world are gradually beginning to reopen their borders, businesses are, in general, taking a cautious approach to international travel until there is greater certainty that their employees can travel safely.
In the longer term, it is likely that companies will review the nature and scope of their global mobility programs to assess the extent to which the pandemic has impacted both the efficacy of sending employees on various types of international assignments and the willingness of employees to accept them.”
DSML: How will the recent surge in unemployment rates affect the ability of U.S. employers to hire and retain key international talent?
Turansick: “With over 29 million U.S. workers regularly receiving one form of unemployment relief or another and over a million workers joining their ranks weekly, it is inescapable that the ability of U.S. employers to hire and retain foreign born workers, already a cumbersome process, will become even more challenging. It is fascinating the extent to which the pandemic has taken the national focus away from the fact that we are in a Presidential election cycle with an incumbent whose campaign has centered on improving opportunities for American workers. Immigration policy has always been politicized but that is likely to increase over the next few months.
In an Executive Order that had been widely rumored for the past several weeks, the Trump Administration has announced major restrictions on the entry of temporary foreign workers through the end of 2020. Mainstay non-immigrant categories such as the H-1B, L-1, H-2B, H-4 and J-1 categories are affected. Regulatory changes to the F-1 OPT program have also been rumored but are not included in the Executive Order. While the Executive Order contains exemptions and does not affect foreign nationals already in the U.S., it will impact hiring strategies of companies in virtually every area of the U.S. economy. Legal challenges are likely to follow so the immediate impact of these restrictions may be more in the political arena than in global mobility.
Also, the U.S., like many countries, requires a labor market test to ascertain the availability of qualified and willing U.S. workers for an occupation before a foreign national may be granted permanent residence (‘green card”) status based on a job offer in that occupation. With tens of millions of U.S. workers looking for employment, the scrutiny with which these applications will be reviewed is likely to be unprecedented.”
DSML: Another key factor impacting the global mobility of personnel is the acceleration of remote employment and virtual team project scenarios as a result of COVID-19. Is this a short term or longer-term paradigm shift?
Turansick: “While remote work and virtual employee arrangements have become more common over the past few years, COVID-19 has obviously been a catalyst for the rapid acceleration of both concepts. Similarly, the trend toward increased use of short-term business assignments as compared to long term “permanent” relocation has been expanding for some time. It’s still too early to estimate the impact of COVID-19 on traditional global mobility operations over the long term, although the intersection of these two trends suggests that the new “business as usual” is unlikely to resemble the usual business practices of the recent past. Until effective vaccine and treatment therapies are developed and disseminated, an employer’s duty of care obligations to its employees may require an increased reliance upon remote/virtual assignments.”
DSML: In the U.S., there has been a general tightening of immigration policies over the past several years. What are the key changes affecting global mobility and are they likely to continue and possibly expand?
Turansick: “Initially, it should be noted that the U.S. has not been the only country to implement restrictions on immigration recently. For example, the Brexit movement in the U.K. was born largely as a result of concerns over immigration trends. In the U.S., enhanced scrutiny of both applications for admission and requests for benefits, dramatic lengthening of processing times, proposals for significant fee increases and enhanced immigration enforcement have become common for the past several years. These trends are unlikely to decrease and may expand somewhat in the near term. Travel restrictions, whether or not related to COVID-19, are also likely to continue. An interesting and indirect consequence of COVID-19 is that the sudden decrease in user fees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has created a budget shortfall which may result in staffing reductions in the next few months and a corresponding further deterioration of service levels. Overall, employers seeking to maintain a globally diverse workforce can expect continued high scrutiny, lengthy delays and increased costs in the months ahead.”
DSML: What advice would you give to employers seeking to maintain or enhance a globally diverse workforce in the current restrictive climate?
Turansick: “First, I believe it is critical to have a long-term view recognizing the value of maintaining a global workforce. An important facet of diversity for business relates to maintaining a workforce that is representative of its community and customers. In our global economy, the value of a diverse workforce that can relate effectively with both cannot be overstated. Having said that, it’s equally important in the short term to stay informed and involved with respect to policy changes affecting global mobility so that business strategies are realistic and agile in the face of seemingly constant challenges. Finally, having a retention strategy for foreign national workers that recognizes the anxiety inherent in the current immigration climate and demonstrates a tangible commitment to on-going support will be invaluable in navigating a path forward.”
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- Michael F. Turansick is Senior Counsel at Fragomen, a global immigration firm with over 50 offices providing immigration services to over 170 countries. Mr. Turansick has in excess of 30 years of experience assisting clients with strategic immigration and global mobility matters. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Fragomen, which has not reviewed the representations made herein.