The Executive Order on Immigration: What It Means to Your Workforce

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The status of foreign nationals who work in the U.S., as well as those enrolled in the H-1B visa program, is in the news after President Trump's executive order on immigration, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. There is also speculation that President Trump could soon sign an executive order that revamps the H-1B visa program as a follow-on to this order, according to USA today.

The order has gotten the attention of organizations in Silicon Valley, academia or other industries that have traditionally accessed talent from a pool of foreign nationals. But whether your organization employs a large number of foreign nationals or simply has a wide global footprint, it's critical for HR leaders to have a fundamental understanding about what has changed as a result of the order and to assess what changes could be riding on its coat tails.

Executive Order on Immigration

The immigration order suspended the entrance of certain citizens from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia) into America for 90 days so the U.S. can review its screening procedures. Initially, people wondered if the January 27 order would also apply to legal U.S. residents with green cards or H-1B visas.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), legal permanent residents (those with green cards and visas) would be subject to a reduced standard of vetting. "Absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations," per the DHS press release.

Despite this clarification, some confusion among legal residents and their employers remains as initial enforcement at airports around the U.S. appeared inconsistent. In the interim, several federal judges have issued orders affecting portions of the order until the legality of the president's order can be fully adjudicated, as reported by CNN

Possible Changes to the H1-B Visa

Currently, 65,000 foreign H1-B visa workers are allowed in the U.S., according to the DHS. But there are always more applications than visas, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, and visas are granted through a lottery process. Organizations that hire foreign workers need to be aware that the number of H1-B visas that are allowed could change. It's also possible that the costs of applying for an H1-B visa, as well as the length and complexity of the vetting process, could be modified.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) begins accepting H1-B application for 2018 on April 1, 2017, and the process can take three to six months, from the time you apply, to receive a final determination. So with the already swift changes to immigration regulations seen this year already, it would be wise for HR leaders to retain the help of a legal adviser who specializes in immigration and H-1B work visas to consult with as you make your preparations. You can also keep track of potential changes through the USCIS website.

Impact on Employee Travel

If you have employees from the seven countries listed in the executive order on immigration, make sure they're aware of the order and monitoring its enforcement. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, organizations should encourage affected employees to remain in the U.S. and halt any travel plans, even with a valid H-1B visa or green card.

Offer Your Support

Finally and perhaps most importantly, you should communicate regularly with all impacted employees and let them know that you are monitoring the situation and will be there to work with them in whatever way you can. As these changes unfold, HR leaders should study what's happening in the White House, Congress, courts and with various regulatory agencies. Changes are coming, but because the scope of these alterations is still not entirely clear, you'll need to attempt to plan for as many contingencies as possible.

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