All Articles Leadership Live from SHRM: What employers need to know about immigration reform

Live from SHRM: What employers need to know about immigration reform

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Sweeping immigration reform legislation being considered in Congress could bring about positive change for employers, in particular granting them access to deeper pools of talented foreign workers, said speakers at the SHRM 2013 annual conference in Chicago. However, the legislation could also introduce new dangers, and HR professionals should start taking stock of their workforces to determine the fees they could incur.

Here’s a rundown of the elements of immigration reform that employers should be paying attention to, according to Michael Aitken, SHRM’s vice president of governmental affairs, and Lynn Shotwell, executive director at the American Council on International Personnel.

More visa options for foreign workers

The Senate immigration reform bill would double the number of green cards available to foreign workers by providing exemptions to the spouses and children of foreign workers. In other words, the family members of foreign workers would be able to use exemptions in stay in the U.S., instead of having to obtain green cards that could otherwise go to other qualified workers.

The bill would also eliminate per-country quotas, which have been criticized for constraining the number of workers that can be recruited from countries deep talent reservoirs. It would also increase the number of available merit-based green cards and H-1B visas, which are used mostly by technology firms to hire skilled workers on a temporary basis. A new type of visa would be created for low-skilled workers.

Hiring foreign workers would become more expensive

The fees employers must pay on H-1B visas would increase significantly, particularly under the immigration bill being considered in the Senate. Large firms, for instance, might have to pay up to $10,000 for each employee that they hire with the help of a H-1B visa.

Employers will also have to start dedicating more resources to satisfying compliance issues. New rules could require that employers demonstrate that they’ve tried to fill positions with American workers before resorting to hiring foreigners. Employers that use overseas recruiters might be subjected  to greater scrutiny.

The Senate immigration bill also seeks to alter prevailing wage requirements, which are designed to ensure that compensation for foreign workers is comparable to that to that of their American counterparts. Some fear that proposed changes go too far and could result in foreign workers being overpaid.

New paths to citizenship could raise anti-discrimination issues

The Senate immigration bill would encourage illegal immigrants to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, a process which involves coming clean to their employers about their non-citizenship. Employers would be barred from discriminating against workers who seek RPI status.

Employers also would not be allowed to take adverse actions against workers whose immigration status is being appealed. The appeals process could take six months or longer, during which time employers would have to tread delicately.