Immigration concerns Featured

5:35pm EDT August 30, 2006
You need to fly in some executives from overseas, and a product launch depends on their arrival. Since the events of 9/11, visitors to the U.S. are scrutinized more carefully as a result of new immigration security measures in place.

Rob Seiger, chair of the Immigration Practice Group of White and Williams LLP, says more and more companies are choosing to outsource their immigration function in order to avoid potential business disruption due to delays in the immigration process.

Smart Business spoke with Seiger about immigration and how companies can go about navigating the immigration process in the current immigration environment.

How has the current business climate affected the practice of immigration counsel?
Businesses are now increasingly going global. As a result, we’re seeing a lot more cross-border movement from our clients.

As a general case, we may have a global client who wishes to bring over a foreign national executive for a series of U.S. business meetings, which results in the need for a business visa. Down the road, that client might decide that he or she needs this executive on more of a full-time basis, so these initial business meetings eventually turn into a need for an executive transfer. If you’re a foreign national and you need to be here for more than just tourism or a quick business meeting, you need some form of work visa. In fact, companies may have a corporate policy where their executives who are developing their careers abroad must do a period of time in a company’s U.S. office. Our firm assists with the required immigration process for companies to bring their foreign national executives to the U.S.

With the increase in international transactions that require their executives to be strategically placed around the world, we’re seeing more companies decide two years into a transferred executive’s stay that they want to keep him here in the U.S. permanently, so they offer to sponsor him for a ‘green card.’

Is it more challenging to get these executives to the U.S. today?
It’s a lot more challenging. Prior to 9/11, many companies generally handled the immigration function inhouse, leaving it up to their human resources department. After 9/11, the U.S. government raised the scrutiny of visa applications to higher levels as a result of new security procedures that were put in place. Today we’re seeing more and more companies engage counsel to handle their immigration cases because they are now seeing more negative visa applications outcomes from even routine cases.

Companies understand that a foreign executive transferring into the U.S. office often affects some business unit of that company and, if the visa application fails, it affects the bottom line. So immigration has become a very specialized area, and companies have realized they prefer to go out and seek counsel who can fight for them.

How does the immigration process work now?
Before 9/11, after a visa application was approved, the notice of approval was sent to the foreign national in his home country. The foreign national would mail his passport to an embassy, it would be stamped with a visa, and then the foreign national would jump on a plane to the U.S.

Now, the Department of State requires that they need to interview everyone applying for a visa to come to the U.S. Every foreign national applicant for a visa has be personally interviewed by a State Department Consular Officer before a visa can be issued. That officer has independent discretion as to whether or not to issue the visa requested, based on how he feels the interview is going. It can significantly delay the visa process. Also, every embassy has its own unique procedures and protocols, meaning that each embassy presents its own challenges. That’s another area where a law firm specializing in immigration practice can help. A law firm that has developed relationships with these embassies abroad and can potentially assist with this process will minimize the risk of visa denial.

What kinds of risks does a company take by not handling workers’ documentation properly?
The enforcement arm of immigration is called the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Until recently, the enforcement efforts of ICE concentrated on arresting illegal aliens and pursuing administrative penalties for employers who had paperwork violations. Now, they’ve modified their policy on enforcement and are starting to pursue the employers themselves. ICE is conducting industry-specific enforcement actions where agents are not only going after illegal employees but also the executives and managers who are hiring them.

ROB SEIGER is chair of the Immigration Practice Group at White and Williams LLP. Reach him at (215) 864-7021.