“Think ahead. Don't let day-to-day operations drive out planning. ” Donald Rumsfeld
Developing company policies is a multi-faceted process that requires time, thought, insight, debate and a desire to develop systems that reliably manage people, a program or a process. Immigration is one of those programs and processes that Human Resources should manage carefully to ensure its immigration matters are handled consistently and in a manner that meets, first and foremost, the company's business objectives while accommodating the employees' personal objectives to the extent possible.
Most HR folks I speak with confess to not having a company policy covering immigration matters. Many have a policy on I-9 Compliance, but there the policy ends. Companies should consider developing a policy that covers various aspects of immigration sponsorship, including
- Confirmation of the company's discretion in sponsorship decisions
- Confirmation that sponsorship does not ensure continued employment
- Guidelines on the internal process for sponsorship approval
- Guidelines on types of positions within the company that will be considered for sponsorship
- Guidelines on the timing of sponsorship decisions
- Guidelines on the selection and use of outside immigration counsel
- Guidelines on what fees and costs will be paid by the company, with a confirmation that the company will pay all immigration fees and costs required by law or regulation to be paid by the employer
- Guidelines on whether and under what circumstances the company will pay the immigration fees and costs associated with the employee's family members
Must a company have an immigration policy? No. However, for companies with international employees, having such a policy provides structure and consistency to their employment-based immigration process. It reduces conflict and special situations that result from negotiated sponsorship agreements.
The key to developing a functional policy is to establish a core policy development team, as well as a secondary resource team. While team make up will vary from company to company, I recommend that the development team be comprised of representatives from Human Resources, Finance and Legal. The resource team should include key stakeholders such as department heads, managers and others who utilize the skills and talent of the international employees. From the resource team, the development team can gain a keen understanding of the role and importance of the international employees; the impact of the immigration process on the hiring, morale and retention of those international employees; and the impact of the departure of the same. This knowledge base will serve the development team in balancing the company's business objectives with the real needs and concerns of the managers and international employees.
Once a policy is developed and adopted, the first key to the successful implementation and application of the policy is education – both for management and the international employees. The second key to success, as is true with all company policies, is the consistent application of the policy. In short, while policy development can be a challenging undertaking, once adopted and implemented, a clear company policy creates a clear consistent path for all involved.