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Immigration Reform on ‘Life Support’
Council for Global Immigration works to shape change by other means

By Roy Maurer  6/4/2014
 

The Council for Global Immigration (the Council), an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, will continue to work toward effective reforms that facilitate global high-skilled talent mobility as more signs point to languishing movement on immigration reform legislation.

Referring to immigration reform as the “on-again, off-again drama,” Council Executive Director Lynn Shotwell declared it to be on life support June 3 at the Council’s 2014 Symposium held in the Washington, D.C., area. “We’re all sitting in the hospital room, hoping for the best,” she added.

Shotwell vowed that the Council, which represents U.S. employers that navigate the immigration system, will “stay ahead of the curve” as reform deliberations continue. “We’ve learned that we must always recalibrate, reassess and redirect” in this town, she said.

The current political standoff on immigration reform boils down to House Republicans not wanting to take up comprehensive legislation passed in the Senate in 2013 and instead preferring a piecemeal approach. However, even that is being delayed by continuing opposition in the Republican caucus. The intractable positions even extend out into a possible future scenario: Republicans say that if the GOP wins the Senate in November 2014, they could push for a reform bill in the next Congress—but Democrats counter that in that case the issue will be dead until after the presidential election in 2016.

President Barack Obama has promised executive action if Congress fails to act on reforming the nation’s immigration system; however, some controversy exists over what those actions may be and how far they can go, Shotwell said.

The Department of Homeland Security is currently conducting a review to determine what the administration can do by way of executive action. Likely possibilities include revising immigration enforcement and removal priorities, and perhaps expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to other groups of people.

Shotwell remarked that the legislative inaction has not meant that the Council’s efforts haven’t paid off in other ways. Recent accomplishments include two policy changes unilaterally imposed by the White House that the Council has advocated on for years: benefits for same-sex families and work authorization for certain H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders. The Council is also working with the administration to improve the electronic I-94 process and advocates around the world for a trusted employer program to provide the U.S. government and employers that routinely hire foreign nationals greater efficiency and flexibility in immigration processing. Policymakers in Canada, Ireland and the U.S. are examining how a trusted employer program could be implemented, she said.

Shotwell said there is no shortage of challenges for employers to stay ahead of, including enhanced scrutiny from a host of regulatory agencies in the form of inspections, historically high Requests for Evidence rates, arrests and fines. “We will man the watchtower 24/7, and we stand ready to work with you to do that,” she said.

The U.S. isn’t the only place businesses are facing immigration challenges. The Council monitors national and local immigration changes worldwide as well as the migration provisions being negotiated in ongoing trade agreement talks.

For example, the European Union recently passed a directive to harmonize the rules for intra-company transfers. Shotwell called this “a welcome development,” but noted that the directive must be implemented by each member state over the next three years. “With the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent, this may be easier said than done,” she said. Such sentiment was displayed in February 2014 when voters in Switzerland approved greater immigration controls. “Around the globe, we see tension between liberalized movement and protections for local workers. This often leads to unpredictable immigration systems,” she said.

“We may not get the comprehensive change that we want, but we must continue to work for incremental change,” Shotwell reiterated. “With an immigration system that isn’t broken, we can recruit enough skilled talent, we can foster successful competition in the global marketplace, and we can feed the growth our nation needs in productivity and innovation.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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