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As society continues to embrace globalization, immigration has become a complex issue that is faced by many companies when relocating employees. Delays in visa applications and immigration compliance continue to shift as technology changes and better tracking systems become available. Relocation Management Companies (RMCs) work closely with their immigration partners to stay abreast of complicated global changes. Three of the key areas being discussed in immigration at the moment are:
With recent large-scale layoffs occurring, applicants can expect greater difficulty in attaining permanency visas. Corporations must be able to demonstrate they have essential personnel needs that cannot be fulfilled in the current, local labor market. This is especially relevant for the tech industry, which is responsible for the majority of layoffs (Bloomberg Law). In a recent immigration panel sponsored by Fragomen through the Worldwide ERC® titled, “The Immigration Kaleidoscope Sensemaking in an Uncertain World,” Fragomen explained that there are conflicting values for most countries to protect the local labor markets while continuing to push open markets, ease restrictions, invest in local economies, and attract talent across borders.
When discussing the difficulty to attain a visa, there are two government concepts to consider: the state of the economy and public opinion. Unfortunately, when the economy is not performing well, concerns will increase over immigration issues. As such, increased delays in granting visas are expected until the economy rebounds and layoffs stabilize. In the current state of the economy, permanency visas are projected to take 13+ months to be approved, and even then, approval is limited and often granted to workers already in the United States as a result of recent layoffs (USCIS). Companies experiencing layoffs can expect even greater delays than other organizations. Many governments are hoping for technological advancements to aid in the tracking of immigration and other government processes to lessen immigration concerns and improve the public perception of work migration.
Remote working by digital nomads has brought with it a number of issues for companies, and the area of immigration is no different. The most pressing issues are typically considered to be tax compliance and limited work visas. If employees fail to tell their company that they are traveling while working, the company could be incompliant without their knowledge in the areas of tax, social security, and other geographically-based programs (Bloomberg Tax). In addition, attempts to obtain remote working visas are often futile as the earning requirements are per person and quite high; dependents are often not included in the visa; and there are various complications for social security and other government programs. Restrictions for remote working while traveling are expected to become stricter in the coming years.
Immigration Changes and Impacts
The need for technological advancements in immigration has been discussed for years, but it appears that some of these agencies are finally nearing digital tracking for immigration. For example, Europe is turning to electronic tracking to aid in the monitoring of immigration in the hope of addressing many immigration concerns. Currently, much of Europe is seeing large backlogs due to displaced individuals from Ukraine and the surrounding countries. The need for these electronic systems is causing a push for immigration changes as seen in the following systems:
- ESTA. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is a pre-travel clearance that does not require a visa to enter the United States when coming from certain countries. An ESTA typically takes 72 hours for application approval. The United States is still considered significantly behind in the digitalization of immigration, continuing to use paper applications in most areas. (CBP)
- ETIAS. The European Travel Information and Authorization System is also a pre-travel clearance for individuals wishing to travel to countries in the EU Schengen Zone for up to 90 days. The application approval process is expected to take between four days and two weeks. While previously exempt, beginning at the end of 2023, United States citizens will be required to have an ETIAS to travel to these European nations as well. (SchengenVisaInfo)
- EES. Another system that is being put into use is the Entry and Exit System), which will replace the stamps on passports for non-EU nationals. The EES will track the movements of individuals into and out of a country. This will make current workarounds of entering through other countries, which might not require passports, impossible. The rollout of EES is expected to take six to12 months, according to Fragomen, with the UK wanting 100% implementation by the end of 2024. (SchengenVisaInfo)
So, what are the impacts of these digital tracking systems? The main impact on travelers is that the old tricks of travel will no longer be feasible. There will be a greater importance placed on companies tracking the migration of their employees. If there are issues with compliance, employees will be held at the borders and the companies will be contacted to sort out the issues, causing a headache for transferees and companies alike with heightened challenges for older employees to be expected (Fragomen). It is also anticipated that this will lead to the micro-managing of business trips and transfers as these systems will be tracking entrances and exits, as well as the total number of trips and how long was spent in the country over specific time periods, which will be reported for immigration, tax, and social security purposes.
The most common question asked is how these standards are being policed. As technology makes tracking easier, various government entities will be able to work together to track companies and their employees in various areas, such as immigration, social security, taxes, pension, and border control. As this data is integrated together, there will likely be triggers for audits when the information conflicts. For example, if an employee’s taxes say they were in England for the majority of the year, but the immigration records show the employee in Germany, this will likely cause an audit for the company and may lead to compliance fines. The complex capabilities of tracking employee migration will also make audits even more difficult as companies must be able to provide this information with little to no notice of an audit with the rise in random audits as a result of the economic landscape (Clark Hill).
In the end, the current landscape of immigration is in flux and in a state of uncertainty about what the future will look like. Various digital tracking systems are being created for immigration, which will be used to track overall compliance from companies and travelers. While these adjustments are difficult, some would say the most difficult aspect will be gaining buy-in from leadership.
According to Fragomen, leadership will likely wait until compliance fines are implemented (due to failure to adopt these immigration changes) before they act. However, since the compliance fines are still unknown and the inconveniences at the border for transferees can be extensive, RMCs are suggesting proactive policy review to incorporate the newest immigration changes as they are released. This will inevitably reduce costs for companies and inconveniences for the transferees. After all, according to the government, it is the company’s responsibility to track the immigration status of each transferee and ensure that they are notified when deadlines approach and changes occur (EEOC). RMCs are in place to assist companies in making the immigration process smoother for companies and transferees alike.