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Red Tape Central

Cutting Through the Tightening Work-Visa Process

The workforce has become a global market and CEOs are searching for highly skilled talent from an international pool of candidates.That means that geopolitical events are having an impact on the work-visa process globally.There are several factors to consider while looking at the geopolitical landscape and how it is affecting the work-visa process. Protectionist nations are making immigration increasingly more difficult, talent is fighting for coveted spots in developed markets, and compliance with immigration policy frequently requires an expert level of detail and knowledge for fear of the steep consequences of being out of compliance.

Why does the global talent landscape matter? The talent market is changing, and as Millennials and Generation Zers become sought-after employees, these younger workers have expressed a desire to broaden their horizons and work overseas.Additionally, it has become increasingly important for CEOs with a thirst for innovation to search far and wide for the best talent available to bolster their companies’ positions in the global marketplace.

In fact, 52% of CEOs plan to increase headcount, but are having trouble finding employees with the right knowledge and skill sets for their needs, according to PwC’s 20th Annual GlobalCEO Survey from 2017. In addition, 77% of CEOs feel the biggest threat to their business is the shortage of employees with these key skills.

The search for highly coveted talent may result in the need to relocate a new hire and family from out of the country to the home office. To point further to the development of the global talent market, 74% of CEOs already feel that obtaining work visas in a timely, predictable and flexible manner is critical to their business objectives, according to a study from the Council for Global Immigration.

So, what are the key trends affecting work immigration visas?

Protectionist vs. Openness

Geopolitical events, such as changes in leadership or referendums, definitely have an impact on immigration and the work-visa process throughout the world. Countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Brazil have become more protectionist toward immigration. As a result, they are tightening their processes — having made acquiring and renewing work visas more difficult for companies and individuals.

In the United Kingdom, Brexit has become a major concern for European Union (EU) nationals working in the United Kingdom and for UK nationals working in the EU. While policy creation is underway to help smooth the transition, including a two-year grace period, finalized plans have not yet been released. This delay has created additional concern for companies operating and recruiting within the United Kingdom and EU.

In the United States, the current political leadership has expressed a strong interest in reforming the H-1B visa process that already has an imposed cap, limiting the number of employees U.S.-based companies can employ from overseas. This is the main visa used by a majority of U.S. employers to get skilled foreign workers to enter the country and grow their companies. Added confusion and hesitation for employers stems from the Trump administration’s stance on immigrants and travelers from a number of countries that employers may have been targeting. (See “The Microsoft Example.”)

The current climate in Australia has led to sweeping changes in the country’s position on work visas. Several immigration changes have been imposed, including the removal of 216 occupations from the consolidated sponsored occupation list, as well as a New Foreign Worker Levy to be paid by companies that hire overseas rather than domestic employees.

Finally, in Brazil, changes to the visa process are expected to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. Fines have significantly increased at both the individual and employer level. In fact, employer penalties could be up to 403% higher, as much as $270,000 USD, depending on the violation.

Alternatively, other countries, such as Canada, are moving toward more open worker immigration policies designed to attract new talent into their skilled-worker pools. Canada has launched the Global Skills Strategy, an aggressive two year pilot program that began in June 2017. The program is designed to make highly skilled talent from abroad more accessible to employers. Part of the program is a two-week work permit processing for occupations under the Global Talent Stream (GTS) or the International Mobility Program (IMP), from which application to approval of the permit can be accomplished in two weeks. This approach to streamlining the work-visa process is a boon to companies operating in Canada and makes hiring desired foreign talent an attractive option. Additionally, the pilot program contains two new work-permit exemptions for short-term work.


Companies based in protectionist nations are in an incredibly tight spot. They want to be the best and most innovative with superior talent, but that can be challenging. First, the company needs to be able to bring that talent over. Second, the company needs to be able to assure the talent that uprooting their life (and, in many cases, the lives of their family) won’t be for naught.

A well-known example is Microsoft. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer, detailed earlier this year on a company blog the challenges and concerns Microsoft and its employees are facing with regard to immigration improvements and reform.

Smith elaborated about how a giant backlog of green cards exists because specific details in legislation set annual limits and country-of-origin limits in the United States. He noted the concern and anxiety from current employees who have made a home in the United States but are still in limbo because of the backlog. Employees are worried about their own immigration status, as well as the status of their spouse and children, he wrote.

Smith went on to say that the American tech sector is a global leader right now, but that status could be in jeopardy if the green card backlog is not addressed and comprehensive reforms are neglected.

Developed vs. Emerging Markets

The most coveted work locations are in developed mature markets such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, where the majority of global companies are based. However, as noted in the June/July issue of Workspan, due to sweeping geopolitical changes on immigration, these countries are some of the most difficult to obtain a work visa for even the most talented foreign employee. Yet, many emerging markets have started to see the value of obtaining top talent from overseas. According to PwC’s Millennials At Work study, 71% of that group born from 1981 through 2000 want and expect to work overseas as part of their careers. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia remain at the top of their destination lists, while emerging markets such as India and China are at the bottom. This mindset among younger employees could present a problem for companies in developed markets when looking to court new talent.


There is increasing concern from companies to be compliant with global immigration laws, which have become more complex and ever-changing. The repercussions for not being compliant can be severe and include hefty fines, imprisonment and damage to the brand reputation. Some countries have decided to publish violators of global immigrations laws and make that information public. In addition to wanting to avoid fines and jail time, the negative impact caused to a brand’s reputation for being out of compliance is a consideration. Some companies are proceeding with a great deal of caution when sourcing overseas talent despite the desire to attract and hire the best.

Overcoming Barriers

It is apparent that hiring skilled overseas talent can be a challenge. However, when the right person for the job has been found, business leaders don’t want to miss the opportunity. Here are a few actions to make the immigration and workvisa process easier:

Be proactive and seek to understand business and project needs. The more known about the role, the better judgment can be made on the skills needed to successfully fill that role. This furthers the ability to defend the decision to bring in foreign talent to immigration officials.

Align the client and business strategy with the proposed talent. Understand the key factors that affect meeting immigration requirements, and make sure the company is prepared to meet those requirements on behalf of the incoming employees and their families.

Sponsoring desired workers for permanent residency is always a possibility, but not always a viable solution.

Budget for increasing immigration costs. It is common sense that as the global market continues to grow and geopolitical events provide constant changes to immigration policy, the cost of finding, hiring and arranging for overseas talent to move to the new job location will increase.

Be prepared for audits from immigration authorities and demonstrate proper record keeping. Being organized is key in avoiding unanticipated delays in visa grants and renewals, as well as the panic employees may experience if they are threatened with deportation.

Work with an immigration provider. Keep up-to-date with immigration changes that have an impact in respective company locations.

Other Ways of Leveraging Overseas Talent

It’s important to recognize that even with diligence and hard work, securing overseas talent may not be an option. Companies can secure their futures by looking at other ways of getting the talent they need. Sponsoring desired workers for permanent residency is always a possibility, but not always a viable solution. Here are three options that can help companies secure desired talent:

1. Introduce an internal development program to create a career path for current employees to grow and mature within the company. As part of this, some companies offer to supplement continued education costs. This could take longer and wouldn’t provide for an immediate need because education and career growth are slow processes. But they definitely are positive longterm investments.

2. Take advantage of temporary work assignments for a short-term solution. Bringing in skilled talent for a limited time could provide the leadership and vision needed to start a project, and then skilled talent can work remotely from their home country. Additionally, companies may consider making a temporary work assignment have a training focus, enabling the expert employee to pass on knowledge and information to employees in the desired office location. Training could go both ways, with those being trained traveling to the home country of the skilled talent for a short-term training session as well.

3. Have your talent work remotely on a permanent basis despite a time difference that may not be ideal.

Learn to Work Within and Around the System

The best course of action for a company is to be organized, proactive and to have a backup plan. Countries wanting to maintain leadership in innovation might have to revisit their visa policies and come up with strategic solutions that both allow easier movement between nations and set up their employees for success in desirable fields.

Microsoft, for example, has put forth an idea to address one country’s immigration conundrum. Called A National Talent Strategy, it ultimately uses funds gained in the visa process to increase STEM education and training.

Talent immigration and policy development have so many hurdles to overcome. Change is never quick. Geopolitical events continue to have an ever-present impact on immigration visas and the war for talent acquisition, and the global market is not going away. To remain competitive, companies will need to learn how to work within and around the system.

Jennifer Baillie-Stewart

Jennifer Baillie-Stewart is the global practice leader for global immigration at Crown World Mobility. She can be reached at