Leon Rodriguez and Doug Rand Discuss The Forces That Shape The Future Of Global Workforce

 
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During Seyfarth’s Work: The Future event held last Wednesday, June 21, at Seyfarth Shaw’s San Francisco office, Leon Rodriguez and Doug Rand addressed the future of global mobility in the U.S. and across the worldGlobal mobility is one of the hottest issues in current political and business discourse, but it is hardly a new one. For thousands of years talent, energy and capital moved to where new opportunities arose. But how do we handle the challenges of global mobility today, and what changes can we expect around the corner, as well as in the long term?

Rand is a Co-Founder and President of Boundless, a technology company that assists immigrants to seamlessly transition into society. Rand also served as Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Obama administration. Rodriguez is Seyfarth partner, and has served as the most recent director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

The Recent Past

Rand and Rodriguez identified actions taken by the U.S. government in recent years to align immigration rules and regulations with business interests in attracting talent. One such regulation—the International Entrepreneur rule—was finalized on January 17, 2017 and was designed to create special visas for entrepreneurs. The regulation was scheduled to go into effect in July 2017 and would have allowed entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. to start high-growth-potential companies. The visa would have required that the start-up in question be backed by experienced U.S. investors or government research and development funding. Although the regulation would have increased a flow of talent into Silicon Valley, it would have benefited other places with growing start-up cultures, including South and Mid-West.  The measure has gained support around the country. The Trump administration, however, has announced its plan to rescind the International Entrepreneur rule before any entrepreneurs can apply.

Another regulation, which went into effect in May 2015, is the Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses rule, which makes spouses of H1B workers eligible for work authorization in certain circumstances. Before this regulation, the often-high-skilled spouses of the H1B workers were not authorized to work in the U.S.

Other recent regulations improved the ability of workers to maintain work authorization during the period between the expiration of their H1B visas and the time when their green cards are granted, and clarified the criteria of L1 visas. Rodriguez noted that often regulations provide imperfect patchwork solutions, and are not a substitute for legislative immigration reform.

The Immediate Future

Although a legislative change in the near future is unlikely, businesses can expect the Trump administration to undo many of the executive orders and regulations adopted under President Obama.

Rodriguez explained that having a visa system that attracts higher skill higher wage talent remains a priority under the Trump administration. The President has recently asked that the system be re-worked to put the threshold of high-skill immigration higher on the wage scale. There is no consensus, however, as to what that will mean. While some emphasize a need for more high-skilled talent, the competing perception is that workers who come from abroad, especially those that work for under $100,000 per year, displace similarly-skilled U.S. workers.

Rodriguez predicted that the Trump administration will accelerate compliance and enforcement actions. Businesses should expect increased site visits from USCIS. Further, it is likely that the new administration will use the Department of Labor authority to prohibit businesses who have allegedly defrauded government on immigration from obtaining further work-related visas for their workers. In addition, businesses should expect that civil rights protections that historically evolved to protect foreign workers will now be used to protect U.S. workers, as in a recent civil rights action by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a Georgia farm.  See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-6-16.cfm

Rand emphasized that immigration is a critical family issue, and it is from this perspective that Boundless, his organization, addresses it by helping immigrants navigate the high-stakes administrative system. While over 9 million U.S. permanent residents are currently eligible to become U.S. citizens, less than a million actually become citizens each year. Rodriguez also noted the general employee anxiety that followed new administration’s change in enforcement priorities. Rand highlighted the importance of family unity and stability for a productive labor force, and suggested that businesses can help create this stability by providing immigration services as a benefit.

Rodriguez then discussed his recent visit the Organization for Economic Participation and Development. He emphasized the fierce competition among various governments to attract skilled workers, including U.S. workers.

The Long Game

Rand and Rodriguez agreed that in the long run, global mobility is inevitable because of the tendency for talent and capital to move where it is most needed and desired. Deriving economic benefit from global mobility should be one of the top priorities of a properly functioning migration system, after national security and public safety. Rodriguez invoked President Regan’s metaphor of a wall with doors, and suggested that what is really needed to build and energize businesses in the long run is an open space with barriers designed to protect public safety.

Rand highlighted that the idea of a more mobile immigration system is not a modern invention, as standards for European immigrants to the U.S. were very relaxed up until about 1920s. He encouraged the audience to think of the economic realities and competition for talent between countries, and to set their eyes on 2037, not 2018.

 

Cassie Peterson