Julie Pearl and Sameer Khedekar of Pearl Law Group use their insight and experience to provide a guide to international immigration compliance.
"The good news is that there are ever-better methods for improving companies’ compliance. Even if perfection in this area is unattainable, government and private sector systems now give companies ways to demonstrate their 'good faith' and efforts to do the right thing in all countries."
The global mobility director of a Fortune 500 company commented recently that her anxiety is “well beyond Code Orange”, having received a call “from an executive who got turned away at an airport because the other country’s [immigration] officer believed he needed a work permit”. She also worries that travelling employees are routinely popping in and out of countries without her department’s knowledge or effective evaluation, so that “it’s only a matter of time before we get in trouble somewhere in the world”.
Anyone who has travelled internationally has noticed that many countries’ governments have developed increasingly sophisticated methods of tracking business travellers. Aside from obvious security concerns, why would countries spend so much time and money monitoring travellers? First, governments want to make sure that business travellers are not outstaying their welcome. Second, they are protecting their economies by restricting visitors from engaging in work that otherwise would have been offered to the local workforce. Third, they derive substantial income from both corporate and individual violators of immigration and tax rules as they pertain to business travellers.
The good news is that there are ever-better methods for improving companies’ compliance. Even if perfection in this area is unattainable, government and private sector systems now give companies ways to demonstrate their “good faith” and efforts to do the right thing in all countries. Here are five systemic solutions to help your company protect its travelling employees and its reputation with border authorities around the world:
1. A robust immigration management system, for online, real-time case initiation, tracking and reporting.
Your immigration law firm or provider should offer a modern solution for your company, and you should not have to pay extra for it. Any immigration management system (IMS) must provide full web access to your in-house immigration and mobility team, with the ability to look up each of their employees in the immigration or business travel process, whether to check on the status of visa or work permit processing, or to view at a glance such vital information as the expiry date of the employee’s work permit.
The best systems let your immigration team initiate case requests with your immigration provider, securely attaching important supporting documents. They also provide real-time access to case status, with a summary of both completed and outstanding steps in the process workflow. Look for systems that provide fully configurable workflows that allow for automatically triggered update e-mails. Your system should also allow for customisable, real-time reporting on any of the hundreds of data fields that are collected during the immigration process.
Since immigration is but one cog in the complex business traveller compliance machine, look for systems that also provide access to your tax and relocation providers. If all stakeholders provide key input onto one system, your mobility managers will not have to duplicate efforts by checking multiple systems for the “whole story”.
Finally, ensure that the system allows you to keep your immigration and related information intact, even if you switch providers. Look for a system that you can license directly, or insist that providers use non-proprietary technology. At a minimum, check the system’s record for porting data tables, incorporating customisations and helping you retain the other fruits of your programme-enhancement efforts over the years. Finally, make sure the terms of your service provider engagement include a provision that the data is always legally yours, regardless of who pays for the system or enters the data. Ethics rules governing attorneys in the US support this point.
2. A business traveller tracking programme, in collaboration with corporate travel and tax departments.
Business traveller tracking is an area of significant difficulty for companies, both from an immigration and a tax perspective. How can we know when business travellers are engaging in any sort of profitable activity? How many days in-country are left before we trigger tax liability?
We recommend the use of tools that integrate with booking processes in order to help corporate travel and mobility teams determine, up front, whether the intended travel will subject the company to any immigration compliance exposure. The system should also include management reports that identify employees whose plans call for further analysis. Ideally, the technology should integrate with corporate time/billing and payroll systems that log employees’ daily work locations.
This one thing takes only half a day to do, and gives a great deal of cover: Your internal travel or mobility site must have a “two minute” way to solicit details about the intended travel, providing responsible parties with the ability to assess the reasons for business travel and amount of time spent in each country. We have a sample form of the one-page questionnaire that should be posted on both your travel site and HR intranet. Here’s a snapshot of some of the key questions to ask all travellers:
3. Systematic enrollment in all “trusted traveller” and consular preference programmes.
With the availability of numerous trusted traveller programmes that speed immigration and security processing, you should jump at the chance to help senior executives avoid waiting in long airport queues and to have a huge advantage: automatic proof on every trip that the US government has determined them to be a crime-free, safe traveller.
Aside from arming your key travellers with a presumption of credibility, programmes like Global Entry offer separate security lines – faster than frequent flier preflight lanes; a removal of the need to hand over and scan shoes, jackets, belts, and computers (in most locations); and the bypassing of immigration/customs lines after international flights. Global Entry now works to fast-track travellers in Australia, Ireland, and the US, and other countries are expected to follow suit.
After an online application (US$100 fee for five years) and a one-time interview, fingerprinting and photo session with officials, Global Entry participants are automatically granted trusted traveller status and can also take advantage of the TSA Pre-Check programme which allows for expedited screening benefits during domestic travel at a growing number of major US airports (see globalentry.gov for more information on Global Entry, the main trusted traveller programme in the US).
Other countries, from Canada to the Netherlands, offer reciprocal programmes for trusted travellers. Finally, there are programmes that help your company become better known to local consulates and chambers of commerce. In most instances these can also help give your employees smoother passage through airports. This sort of scheme is especially common in Asia. Wherever your firm has a presence, work with your counsel to build local links and stay on the streamlined track.
4. Tools for business travellers who don’t need a work permit, but need to know the rules regarding visitor visas, healthcare, cash, passport validity, etc.
Short-term business travellers not requiring work permits constitute the vast majority of travelling employees. Even though they don’t require a work permit, their travel experience can still be affected by complex and ever-changing immigration regulations and policies. No one person can possibly know all the changing rules and procedures for entering or transiting through each country as a visitor. Thankfully, there are some tools like the one illustrated below that allow an employee to interactively obtain up-to-date information on travel requirements. These tools can be provided gratis by one of your mobility service providers, and can be linked to your company’s intranet as part of your overall compliance offering.
5. Other online self-help resources for employees.
Evolved mobility programmes will maintain (or lean on their immigration provider to maintain) a comprehensive immigration intranet full of helpful resources for travelling employees and their managers and business partners interested in understanding the processes. It would also provide information on the costs and timelines involved in sending an employee from one country to another. These types of self-help resources should include process workflow charts by country; at-a-glance summaries of the immigration rules of each country (example below); legal memoranda addressing the most pertinent immigration issues; copies of – or excerpts from – your expatriate assignment policies; helpful links to government immigration pages; and access to the immigration and business travel technology mentioned above.
While it may not always be possible to achieve full compliance, taking these steps will ensure your company is in a much-advanced position in terms of protecting your travelling employees.