The saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.”
But employers are finding that workers’ domestic bliss — or lack thereof — can impact their own bottom lines.
Managing the demands of an increasingly international workforce is about more than providing a clear path for advancement or an enticing cross-cultural career challenge.
More and more, corporations are bringing interpersonal factors into their recruitment strategies, both when importing new talent and reassigning existing workers for postings in other countries.
That was the thrust of Global Atlanta’s Global City, Global Teams seminar April 26, which explored the intricacies of managing the expatriate experience in both directions.
Immigration Law: Nothing and Everything Has Changed
The basic ability to move people across borders is dictated by immigration law. In some ways, it has been a moving target since President Donald Trump took office, though the legal framework hasn’t technically been altered.
“The law hasn’t changed, but what we’re seeing is a dramatic change in the interpretation of the law,” said Kevin Miner, a partner at business immigration law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, which co-sponsored the event.
Under Mr. Trump, existing statutes are seen with a more selective lens, leading to seemingly arbitrary denials of new applications and renewals that would have seemed like slam dunks before, Mr. Miner said.
Some 190,000 people have already for this year’s 85,000 slots under the H-1B, the preferred visa category for skilled foreign workers. Being that far over the cap, they’ll be selected by lottery with some preference given to those with high-level degrees. Many companies will be on the outside looking in and could need to get creative to meet their staffing needs.
The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order called for retooling the H-1B program to focus on higher-skilled, higher-paid workers and created a directive for more data disclosure.
That will be tough given the new management team at the helm of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has injected uncertainty into what were formerly fairly standard procedures.
“It’s causing a lot of instability in the day-to-day lives of people who are in this process,” he said.
Recently appointed director L. Francis Cissna even changed the mission statement of the organization, emphasizing “lawful immigration” and excising the focus on a customer-centric approach. The agency has set up performance-review panels that evaluate officers deemed to be doling out too many visa approvals. Processing backlogs are growing, and a new interview requirement for employment-based green cards (permanent residency applications) is throwing into question even some that were previously granted, Mr. Miner said.
He added that while the majority of H-1B cases are advancing, some have left just been flat-out befuddling. One doctor was denied an H-1B when the adjudicator apparently determined his field didn’t require an advanced degree. An engineer ran into hurdles renewing an O-1 visa, a different category granted to those with extraordinary skills or talents, seemingly out of the blue.
“They told him no. They just didn’t seem him as extraordinary anymore,” Mr. Miner said.
Even low-skilled workers are feeling the crunch, with the results impacting some major industries. The removal of Temporary Protected Status for people from El Salvador, for instance, could harm certain construction firms that rely on labor from that country.
Investor visas have seen less scrutiny, Mr. Miner said, but all in all, those working to bring in outside labor (or students for that matter) should be prepared for a more restrictive environment, and that’s not likely to change with mid-term congressional elections on the horizon, he said.
Beyond the Visa
But what about when the visa issue isn’t a hurdle?
Anita Anand, head of the international tax practice at Brady Ware & Co.’s Atlanta office, said there’s still a lot to consider.
For the employer, the cost of the placing someone overseas shouldn’t be taken lightly — especially if tax is triggered in that new country. Companies should use the occasion to reevaluate the structure of their international business and their long-term strategies.
The employee, meanwhile, needs to get the scope of the assignment — length of time, duties and more — in writing, while making sure they understand how their tax liability could change depending on which entity is paying them. In short, it pays to get everything in writing, she said.
That clarity can also help if the worst happens: A family breakup during an international adventure, says Michael Manely, founder of the Manely Firm, which practices international family law in Georgia and beyond.
Under both state law and the Hague Abduction Convention signed by some 100 countries, timeframes matter for the purposes of determining when residency was established in a new place. That can play a key role in the outcomes of child abduction cases, where one parent decides, for instance, to go back home with the kids and never come back.
Mr. Manely gave three case examples from Atlanta/Paris, London and India, showing how the approach to a case can differ based on individual circumstances and the countries involved. He framed it with a mentality from “A Tale of Two Cities.”
“Very seriously, the best of times is that we get to go on this new exciting adventure for our family; the worst of times is that only one of them feels that way,” he said.
Ultimately, companies resettling workers have to be aware of the potential for problems on the front end, doing all they can to minimize domestic discord and providing time to pursue legal remedies when problems do arise.
Housing and Education Plans
Heather Van der Lande Cummings, a residential realtor for Keller Williams First Atlanta believes this brand of preparedness is also key when buying a property in a new locale.
When dealing with foreign clients, Ms. Cummings becomes a “fact-finder” and a “hostess,” listening to their lifestyle goals before helping them sort out which of Atlanta’s many neighborhoods might work best for their needs. She sometimes even encourages them not to buy for a year in order to get a better feel for living here.
Employers should be invested in this process too, as displeasure from being mired in a negative transaction will likely spill over into work life, she said.
Dean Fusto, president of Brandon Hall School, outlined how parents (and friends and grandparents) should go about evaluating international schools for their children across formats, from public day schools to private boarding schools.
At their core, he said, they should be connected to the local community, dedicated to the transferability of the students’ education across borders and authentically devoted to international issues, both in the classroom and through substantive partnerships with institutions abroad. Mission should be woven through everything they do, he said.
“If an international school that you’re looking at, or any school, doesn’t have that piece, and if global citizenship or global education isn’t part of it, I would have a hard time saying that school is truly international.”
Brandon Hall is the only international boarding and day school in Atlanta and one of the early schools in the U.S. to set up a dual diploma program with a Chinese high school. Mr. Fusto is on the road often — both here and abroad — drumming up support for new collaborations.
Nearly 50 people — including many intercultural communicators and corporate mobility specialists — attended the seminar at the newly remodeled conference space of Bank of America Plaza, which is home to the Fragomen offices housing about 100 staffers and attorneys.
Learn more about the event here.
Editor’s note: All the speakers quoted here are Global Atlanta sponsors and advertisers.