In a previous article, we explored the preliminary differences between “transactional” and “strategic” immigration programs by outlining the extensive benefits available to employers who invest in the strategic approach. We also noted, however, that the precise impact of these benefits will vary from company to company - depending on the unique circumstances and goals of each.
That variability raises the question: When is the right time to invest in strategic immigration, and how can a company navigate that discussion? With a lack of discourse around this topic, many employers find themselves in a state of analysis paralysis grappling with the idea that strategic immigration is the right approach for them but uncertain of when it makes sense to begin that project.
Recognizing the signs of outgrowing the transactional approach
Below, we shed some light on our clients’ questions with some of the most common indicators for why a company would should consider implementing strategic immigration earlier, rather than later:
1. You want to maximize hiring efforts to attract the best technical talent
Within STEM fields specifically, foreign-born talent makes up an astronomically large proportion of the available workforce in the U.S. relative to other fields. As a result, for any company looking to fill technical roles (e.g. engineers, product managers, data scientists, physicians, etc.) a cohesive immigration strategy will be vital to their ability to effectively attract, convert, and retain that talent. Consider the following stats from a report by the American Immigration Council:
- Since 1990, the share of foreign-born workers in the STEM workforce has doubled, rising from 11.9% to 24.3% in 2015
- For software engineering, specifically, foreign-born workers made up 39.2% of the workforce in 2015
If we assume these figures have remained steady or slightly increased since 2015, then for any company looking to hire, say, a software engineer, nearly half of the qualified talent pool will require visa sponsorship! Those employers who can tailor their talent strategy to the unique interests and needs of this foreign-born market will realize an immense competitive edge against those who don’t.
2. You have multiple stakeholders involved in immigration
It’s paramount that a company be consistent in how it manages immigration as failing to do so can result in inefficiencies, a diminished employee experience, and legal or audit exposure. However, that consistency becomes progressively impossible to achieve in proportion to the number of stakeholders involved, unless it has the benefit of a strategic immigration program.
To illustrate why that is, consider two hypothetical companies: the first a 15-person startup, and the other a 500-person technology company. Each is going through the process of an H-1B transfer, which requires completing, among others, all of the following steps:
- Determining the hiring requirements, job details, and salary for the role
- Conducting the initial screening, interview, and offer negotiation stages
- Setting what immigration benefits the offer will include, and which of those will or will not be covered by the company (premium processing, dependent sponsorship, Green Card, relocation, etc.)
- Coordinating the visa sponsorship process itself with the help of external counsel, posting the required LCA (Labor Condition Application) notices, compiling the PAF (Public Access File), etc.
At the 15-person startup, it’s not uncommon for a single point of contact (e.g. a co-founder) to handle every one of these steps for a few hires a year, which makes consistency across them easy by default. The chain of command consists of simply one link.
At the 500 person technology company, however, the number of involved parties in the chain expands, as does the opportunity for inconsistencies. When the hiring process involves a Recruiting Coordinator, Technical Recruiter, Hiring Manager, People Ops team, and Finance, for instance, it's easy to imagine how a lack of cohesion and strategy can quickly lead to chaos. From unrealistic salary offers to miscommunication on sponsorship, or non-specified hiring requirements that lead to delays in case processing or a greater risk of RFE’s and denials.
Regardless of how many more links are inevitably added in the long term, engaging with a strategic immigration program will mitigate potential inefficiencies and ensure all stakeholders operate in harmony.
3. You want to gain visibility and predictability over your immigration spend
A common issue we hear from employers of all sizes is that immigration, relative to other HR functions, is of the most volatile when it comes to predicting costs. This isn’t surprising when you consider that:
- H-1B RFE (Request for Evidence) rates have skyrocketed to a peak of 60% in Q1 of fiscal year 2019
- H-1B denial rates peaked at 25% in the same period
- DOL and USCIS site visit and enforcement activity has increased by 400%
With a transactional, ad hoc approach to immigration, employers are effectively crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t become another one of these statistics and receiving the results one might expect. Conversely, a strategic immigration program enables companies to include structural guardrails and data-backed standardization practices that can pre-empt the most common causes for RFE’s and denials, and improve employee productivity and efficiency throughout the case processing phase. In addition to improving case processing, a strategic immigration function allows companies to forecast exactly how many, and what types, of immigration sponsorship it expects in future quarters, and enables a swift and compliant response in the event of an audit or Department of Labor (DOL) site visit.
While it’s tempting to concede cost volatility as inherent to the nature of business visa sponsorship - we’d encourage any company who has received RFE’s or denials to consider how a strategic approach and predictive guardrails might make a measurable impact in improving your company’s ROI for technical hiring.
Armed with three new ways to think about the impact of immigration on company growth, it's clear the value in thinking strategic over transactional about immigration. The benefits for each company will slightly vary depending on what factors (talent acquisition, employee productivity, cost-savings) your team is looking to optimize for, but can dramatically help to prepare companies to scale their workforce seamlessly. For more immediate thoughts on strategic immigration, you can check out some of our latest thinking or follow our blog for more tips.
Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a Bridge-affiliated partner attorney or another qualified legal professional.