Much has been written since April 17 when the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators introduced S. 744, a brobdingnagian immigration reform bill that overlays 844 pages of turgid text on top of the already gargantuan and complex Immigration and Nationality Act. The Migration Policy Institute, the National Immigration Law Center, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have each offered a helpful analysis of the bill. This legislative leviathan grew to 867 pages on April 30 with the substitution of a “managers’ amendment” (available here as revised and here as redlined, as well as here with AILA’s redlined section-by-section analysis released on May 1).
Although most of the media focus has homed in on border security and the seemingly IED-laden roadway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, U.S. companies -- especially the General Counsel (GCs) who advise them -- are slated to be on the receiving end of shock and awe if the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” or BESSIE MAE, as wags like to call it, ever becomes law.
As I explained in a recent article (penned before the managers’ amendment), “Senate Immigration Reform Bill Offers Surprises Galore for Employers,” BESSIE MAE presents American companies with a slew of opportunities and burdens. Consider just a few:
- The H-1B visa quota will rise from 65,00 to 110,000, with a phased escalation clause pushing the quota as high as 180,000 per fiscal year, based on employer demand and the unemployment rate for “management, professional and related occupations.” Yet this Faustian gift will cost employers dearly in pre-hiring recruitment, higher filing fees, increased record-keeping, expanded enforcement authority for the Labor Department, and greater potential fines and penalties.
- Similarly, managers and executives who may or may not become L-1A intracompany transferees would be allowed to enter the U.S. as business visitors for up to 90 days “to oversee and observe the United States operations of their related companies, . . . [and] [e]stablish strategic objectives when needed,” while “employees of multinational corporations [may] enter . . . to observe the operations of a related United States company and participate in select leadership and development training activities . . .” Yet in return, employers lose the free hand heretofore available to devise creative incentives and bonuses for their inbound expatriate employees who now, like their H-1B brothers and sisters, must be paid the " prevailing wage" under the watchful eyes of the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- In like manner, employers would be given immunity (none dare call it "amnesty") if they maintain on their payrolls workers who are undocumented immigrants but who express the intention to apply for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant status. Yet, enrollment in a veritable E-Verify on steroids will become mandatory for all employers, and the Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) will continue to be required. Worse yet, any new hires who fail to receive confirmation of employment eligibility from E-Verify on the first try must continue to be paid, trained and employed while they pursue a host of new administrative hearing and appeal rights of indeterminate length.
Proactive GCs of corporate America should therefore make sure that their companies are ready for the tsunami of change that will sweep over the enterprise if BESSIE MAE or any equally unreasonable facsimile thereof makes it into the statute books.
The old way of managing immigration, as a backwater area of law relegated to Procurement, Recruiting, Human Resources, and Payroll Administration, or -- worse yet -- to foreign nationals seeking work visas who are encouraged or allowed to find a low-cost immigration lawyer to "help" the company, will no longer do. Years back, it was sufficient to consider adopting tips from such articles as, "A Three-Point Immigration Manifesto For Chief Legal Officers And Outside Counsel," and “Global Mobility Management—A Primer for Chief Legal Officers and HR Executives.” Times since then, however, have changed.
To best manage risk, exploit opportunities and control costs across the enterprise while squeezing the most value out of limited resources, GCs must adopt a comprehensive plan of immigration portfolio management, whose key components should address a variety of essential concerns:
- Immigration-customized technology and tools. Immigration Tech tools should include integrated dashboards (developed, prepared and maintained by external immigration counsel and a client-dedicated project management expert at the law firm) with "Single Sign-On" capability and screen views customized to the specific but differing needs of in-house counsel, and all other essential stakeholders within the enterprise. Access would therefore be instantly available to:
- an online collaboration tool using secure FTP extranet technology to exchange and logically organize immigration work product, thereby dispensing with the need to search for on-the-fly emails.
- a robust immigration case management system listing case status and key expiration dates for all employees on work visas or pursuing green cards,
- user-customizable and standard reports showing deviations from internal policies and service level agreements with outside immigration counsel,
- legal matter management, E-billing and performance analytics on immigration benefits procurement and compliance defense,
- an "E-Room" library that houses documents which FDNS or other immigration enforcement personnel might demand to see on short notice such as H-1B public access folders, individual and multi-slot Labor Condition Applications, petitions and applications submitted to immigration agencies, recruiting and advertising materials required for immigrant and nonimmigrant work visa eligibility, vendor agreements with IT and business consulting firms that employ their own foreign workers onsite at company locations, and posting and nondisplacement attestations, and
- a consulting hotline and an online consulting log which serves as a knowledge-management repository for all responses to varying fact patterns, FAQs, memorandums and other oral or written guidance provided to the corporate client over time, with links to the contact information of the lawyer providing the guidance so that there is easy followup with a subject matter expert who can provide any new updates or more nuanced responses.
- Key Immigration Performance Indicators. Metrics would be based on real-time data derived from Human Resource Information Systems that are linked and updated bi-directionally for use by internal recruiters and hiring personnel, and the business's outside immigration lawyers.
- True Partnering with Outside Counsel. "Partnering" is a meaningless buzzword in too many law firms' pitch kits -- one tossed at chief procurement officers who claim to want quality and strategic counsel but are only willing to pay for commoditized immigration legal services offered by the lowest bidder. Real partnering looks more like this:
- It begins with a convergence process in which only one or at most two firms are selected after a carefully conceived request-for-proposal process is concluded, a process in which immigration lawyers come into corporate headquarters not to brag about their talents, but instead model what it would be like to work side-by-side with them to achieve the company's business mission while minimizing risks and controlling wasteful practices.
- The chosen law firm(s) would invest time, money and resources into a long-term relationship, offering all of the integrated legal services required in the immigration arena -- not just Johnny and Jane One-Note visa and green card services, but scalable immigration benefits-procurement assistance, interdisciplinary immigration-compliance defense, federal court litigation and appellate law services, tax advice, U.S. and international employment law representation and export control law guidance -- all under one roof.
- Immigration counsel would meet regularly and ad hoc as needed to evaluate the final immigration reform legislation, advocate for employer-friendly rulemaking, and map out action plans and task owners so that the enterprise is poised to pounce upon immigration opportunities with training programs and internal open-house forums for foreign nationals and managers, prepare Congressional outreach and media strategies, and eliminate or minimize old and new compliance risks. Also included in these meetings would be an annual "Client 101" orientation program taught by in-house counsel for the external team of immigration lawyers, paralegals, project managers and administrative staff to learn all about the company and its culture and a periodic Client/Law-Firm Summit.
- Immigration counsel would also provide benchmarking opportunities to help develop best practices based on the experience and wisdom of comparable businesses in similar industries and share knowledge and strategic thinking from other industry contacts with in-house counsel.
- Services would utilize the best principles of legal process innovation. Six Sigma, Lean Services, Voice of the Client, Scorecards, collaborative process mapping, stakeholder satisfaction surveys and other innovative practices would be employed to manage immigration compliance risks, measure performance metrics, reduce errors, speed cycle time, minimize costs and waste, and make sure that the corporate client becomes, and remains, an "immigration friendly company" to facilitate the hiring and retention of best-in-class talent.
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No longer on hearing the word "immigration" should GCs be made to suffer that all-too-familiar form of queasiness which arises when an "alien" substantive-law problem lands on his or her desk. Inoculation with a healthy dose of immigration portfolio management will provide GCs with immunity from the worst that the likes of BESSIE MAE can try to inflict on them. So there's no reason to toss one's most recent meal. Just take a prescription for immigration portfolio management and contact the most qualified immigration counsel to be found.