Human Capital

Immigration Uncertainty

Employers, especially in technology, are fearful of changes to the foreign worker visa program.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 5 min read

Uncertainty over President Trump’s travel ban and the potential for changes to the H-1B visa program have many companies contemplating the risks to foreign workers.

New proposals could call for some drastic changes to the visa program at a time when many technology companies say there’s already a talent shortage.

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At the same time, critics of the H-1B visa program, which is used for professionals in specialty fields, say some companies are playing the system to replace American workers with less costly foreign staff.

The debate is ongoing although it has heated up with the new administration’s pronouncements, leaving companies that rely on H-1B workers with both uncertainty and risk.

H-1Bs Essential to Secure Talent

Goldman Sachs estimates there are nearly one million H-1B visa holders working in the U.S., accounting for up to 13 percent of the country’s tech workforce. An H-1B visa is an employment-based, non-immigrant visa category for temporary workers.

Employers must apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the worker’s behalf. Most applicants are required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent training and must be paid the prevailing wage for the role.

Employers pay filing fees of between $1,570 to  $2,320 per worker for three-year visas that can be extended for up to six years. Of the 85,000 H-1Bs offered annually by the USCIS, 20,000 are reserved for those with a master’s degree or higher.

William Stock, attorney, Klasko Immigration Law Partners

If the USCIS receives more than the number of petitions in the first five business days of the annual filing system, it awards visas on a random lottery system run by computer.

William Stock, an attorney with Klasko Immigration Law Partners in Philadelphia, and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said companies have often used H-1Bs to fill roles in IT infrastructure and software development that they otherwise haven’t been able to fill.

According to Code.org, there are nearly a half-million open computing jobs, yet only 43,000 Americans graduate from college with computer science degrees annually. While many tech jobs can be outsourced overseas, Stock said there’s still a strong need for talent to be onsite in the United States.

Employers Anticipate Change

Companies of all sizes are evaluating the potential for changes in the system, said Matthew Dunn, partner with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel law firm.

While there are some steps President Trump could take on his own, Dunn said, mass changes would likely need to be approved by Congress.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., recently announced plans to introduce a bill that would require all employers seeking H-1B visas to demonstrate “good faith efforts” to find American workers first.

It would also do away with a lottery system and require that employers prioritize the top foreign students who studied in the U.S.

Dunn said it could add pressure for companies since they are already challenged with obtaining the workers they need.

“Right now, there are 85,000 H-1B visas available each year and there are over 200,000 applicants so the chance of getting one is less than 50 percent,” said Dunn.

Other proposals would boost salary thresholds for workers and remove loopholes in the existing H-1B regulations that let some work for less money than U.S. counterparts.

While there is generally bipartisan support for a vetting process to ensure U.S. workers are not being replaced by cheap foreign labor, employers are still concerned that reforms could curtail their access to talent.

Dick Burke, CEO, Envoy

In the meantime, Stock said, these employers are seeking “as many H-1Bs as they can this season” before there are changes to the law, and they’re also ensuring their salaries are competitive.

Companies are also eyeing their vendor relationships to assess their dependence on foreign workers and how changes could impact their ability to deliver products or services.

Dick Burke, CEO at Envoy, a company that helps secure work authorizations across the globe, said many employers are seeking to move foreign workers to “higher ground” by securing more durable authorization.

Mexican and Canadian citizens can be moved to a NAFTA Professional (TN) work visa and others can use an L-1 work visa, a class designed to help multinationals move more people around. Burke said other companies are even trying to help employees obtain a green card as a legal permanent resident.

“They’re really trying to take advantage of the opportunities that the immigration process permits and we’re helping our [clients] do that,” said Burke.

Travel Ban “Unpredictable”

While employers anticipate changes in the H-1B program in the coming year, President Trump’s travel ban executive order has been a more pressing issue.

Dunn said it is difficult to contend with the new “unpredictability of rules that government may require them to follow.”

“It was just sprung on companies and business travel was certainly disrupted and then plans for future travel have been put on hold,” said Dunn.

It was just sprung on companies and business travel was certainly disrupted and then plans for future travel have been put on hold. — Matthew Dunn, partner, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel

Companies have been communicating with their “employees of concern” about adjustments and status of the ban, he said. And while some of these companies have been holding town hall-type meetings to lend support to foreign national workers, others have been taking a “wait and see” approach.

Stock said the ban has led to a great deal of uncertainty in the business community as it was “unprecedented in scope” and not tethered to “any realistic risk/benefit analysis.”

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While employers remain at the mercy of federal regulations, Burke said, many are deciding to “become more vocal” with their representatives.

There’s not only concern about changes to immigration in the United States but about how foreign governments could respond with potential retaliation. The perception that the travel ban, now being fought in the courts, focuses on Muslims may cause retribution in the global economy, Burke said.

India is the biggest provider of H-1B workers, making up nearly 70 percent of the foreign workforce.

“There’s big concern for companies with global operations. There’s a fear that if you’re not going to let our people come in, we’re going to make it very difficult for you to transact business in our country,” said Burke. &

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at ksiegel@lrp.com.