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Best Practices For A Corporate Immigration Program

by Julie Pearl, Greg Walther, and Sue Spescha

As your company expands its overseas presence, the number of potential minefields related to immigration compliance multiply. A software company mishandles its American H-1B visa applications and its product delivery schedule slips. The bad press they catch exacerbates the problem. At an apparel company, business visitors are deemed to be working without authorization (so-called "stealth workers"), resulting in huge fines.

Lost deals. Underperforming operations. Bad PR. Preventable fines. Avoiding potential outcomes like these motivates companies to take a strategic view of their immigration management activities.

Towards this end, ImmigrationTracker offers eight best practices from immigration professionals at eight global corporations. We order them from the lowest threshold to implement to the highest.

1. Put Your Immigration Policies in Writing

Anna Amato, Immigration Manager at The Coca-Cola Company, suggests creating a written immigration policy. Some topics to include in your policy: under what circumstances will your company sponsor a nonimmigrant visa and permanent resident status, engage outside counsel, and pay fees related to the visa process including the use of premium processing.

Contact your immigration attorney to discuss policy components. Corporate Counsel and HR may request a sample immigration policy, at:, or contact your immigration attorney.

2. Get Your Message Out and Never Stop

Candace Harvey, Immigration Specialist at one of the most successful independent production companies in the history of film, proposes attending new hire orientation to speak with foreign nationals and ensure legal work authorization status. Hold informal brown bags monthly to discuss current immigration issues. Ask your immigration attorney to formally present at least twice a year to keep everyone informed. Add immigration language to your job application forms, offer letters, internal job transfer requests, and termination packets.

3. Invest in Training

Maria Lidestri, Manager Immigration Services for Schering-Plough Corporation, has instituted town hall meetings with Global HR covering immigration-specific topics like the H-1B cap, recruiting issues with relation to the cap (hiring new graduates), PERM recruitment and minimum requirements. She also holds training/education sessions with Schering-Plough Corporation's foreign national population on topics such as labor certifications/BEC processing, PERM process, travel issues and general FAQs.

4. Partner with other Stakeholders in Your Organization

Bruce Larson, Director of the International Personnel Office and Senior Immigration Counsel for Mayo Clinic, recommends developing relationships with other key partners and setting up notification systems based on business rules. Again, cultivate their trust so they bring you into meetings as a strategic consultant. This way, you can proactively offer guidance and insight before "the deal is done" rather than having to resolve an otherwise preventable issue after the fact. Some key partners to consider include:

  • HR: How will this promotion, transfer, or other job change affect current work authorizations and/or pending green cards?
  • Export Control: Will we need an export license for this foreign national now or when they change levels of responsibility and access in the future?
  • Recruiters: What are the projected hiring demands? Have we reached the H-1 cap? Will this new hire require sponsored work authorization? Have we discussed permanent residency sponsorship?
  • Legal: Will they provide assistance in drafting and/or enforcing the immigration policy? How will a reduction in force affect foreign national employees? How will mandatory days off affect H1 workers?
  • Merger & Acquisition Teams: Is the company prepared to assume the Public Access file liability? Are all workers in current legal status? Will they qualify for work authorization with the new company when, for example, changing from an E-2 visa to an H-1B?
  • Relocation and International Tax: When is this employee traveling/arriving in the country? Is this a temporary assignment? Will this assignment last for more than 90 days? Will a spouse and/or other dependents be accompanying the employee?
  • Travel: Will this international travel invalidate the current and/or pending status? Do we have "stealth expatriates?" (for example, employees who should be getting work permits instead of entering countries repeatedly as Business Visitors). When must we notify the tax department?
  • Executive staff: How many foreign nationals will reach their 5-7 year limit in the U.S. before filing for a green card? How will this affect their departments long-term?
5. Conduct regular internal audits

You can never be too prepared for a government audit, says Carol Almond, Immigration Manager for F.L. Smidth, Inc. It's important to inspect your I-9s, public and private access files, as well as, your PERM recruitment files regularly to ensure everything is in order in case of a DOL, USCIS or OFCCP audit. Some key areas for review include:

  • I-9s: Set up an I-9 re-verification process and create an I-9 policy such as whether to assume or complete new I-9s during a merger or acquisition
  • Public Access Files: 2 posted Labor Condition Applications (LCA) noting:
    • Date of posting, date of removal, and location
    • Objective job criteria memo
    • Prevailing wage data and job description with the relevant survey sources
    • Summary of benefit plan descriptions or pages from Employee Handbook describing benefit programs offered to employees
    • Callouts describing any differences in benefits offered to employees and the rationale for doing so (e.g., pay grades, regional considerations, etc.)
  • Private Access Files: actual wage memo
  • PERM: documentation on validating the recruitment and selection process.
6. Create an Immigration Intranet

Eryn Potempa, Immigration Specialist at Nike, Inc., advises establishing an internal immigration department website. Include sections on:
  • policies
  • visa requirements
  • questionnaires
  • case status
  • travel tips
  • contact information
See the sample screen below showing a near maintenance-free website content for a Global Immigration Intranet.

7. Make Case Status Information Available Online

Linda S. Kim, Associate General Counsel for AlphaSoft Services, suggests investing in a self-service tool to provide immediate answers to your employees, managers and HR team when asked questions like:
"What is the status of my case?" "Has my case been approved yet?" "When can this person start working?"
Many immigration software programs provide a web portal interface individuals can use to retrieve their case details from a database.

8. Automate Every Manual Task You Can

"Automation is key!" says Lisa Claypool, Assistant Counsel for University of Pittsburgh Physicians, the physician practice plan for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Eliminate as many manual routine tasks as possible so that you can focus more on your strategic role." She recommends investing in a software management program that will:
  • Stay on top of the process - automatically send reminders such as, "I-94 expires in 6 months", "PERM recruitment period ending" or "Conduct an I-9 re-verification"
  • Save time - generate online questionnaires and forms to auto-populate data
  • Avoid duplicate data entry - export/import among your HRIS and immigration systems
If you cannot bring an immigration management system in-house, find out if your outside legal counsel has one with a web portal so you can view key information, generate reports, and possibly export data to your HRIS.

Manage Case Details

Track every process detail; let employees and managers view selected data

Given recent changes in immigration rules and other complexities, there is pure upside to more strategically managing the immigration program. With some planning, teamwork, and an informed investment in the practices and tools best suited to your company's needs, you can defuse the immigration compliance issues facing your business, bringing peace of mind to everyone involved.

About ImmigrationTracker

Trusted by more Fortune 1,000 companies than any other immigration software, ImmigrationTracker (Tracker) is a complete immigration management software package. Since 1998, it has been enhanced with the suggestions of thousands of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) members and corporate professionals. With integrated forms and case management, the software also includes detailed and secure case tracking, flexible reporting, status expiration monitoring, I-9 and LCA postings history, PERM and other vital compliance features. Tracker is the only immigration software offering both online (ASP) and proven server-based platforms in multiple countries, providing IT and HR departments optimal security and configuration options, plus more certain compatibility with future technology trends. For more information, visit or send an email to

About The Author

Julie Pearl started Pearl Law Group, a business-immigration law firm, in 1995, and it has been listed by Inc. Magazine among the 250 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America (2003) and by the San Francisco Business Times as the #1 Woman-Owned Law Firm in the Bay Area (2003-present). Her rankings include Chambers USA Guide 2007: "America's Leading Business Lawyers"- International Who's Who of Business Immigration Lawyers, Lawdragon 500- New Stars and Top 1% of American Lawyers Super Lawyers, Northern California. Julie graduated from Stanford (BA), Harvard (MPA), and UC-Hastings (JD).

Greg Walther is one of the main pioneers of immigration management automation software. In 1995 Greg designed his first program as an attorney for a top U.S. firm, and in 1999 launched Aria (acquired by ImmigrationTracker). The US Immigration Service has given Greg awards for both law and technology, including an award for designing technology that was implemented nationwide by the Service. Greg graduated from University of California at Berkeley (BA, Highest Honors and JD Boalt Hall).

Sue Spescha is one of ImmigrationTracker's in-house paralegals. Sue brings with her an international flavor having lived in Cape Town (South Africa), London, Italy, and Greece (for 4 months). She moved to the US permanently in 2000 and became a US citizen three years ago. Sue has 7 years experience as an immigration paralegal in all areas of US immigration law, as well as experience with Canadian and UK immigration matters. Sue received a BA Psychology from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and also has a Diploma (Summa cum Laude) in Public Relations & Communications from Boston House College in Cape Town, South Africa. She also attended the Universitá per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy where she studied Italian. Sue speaks English, Afrikaans and Italian, and is currently learning Spanish.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.