Why the Immigration Bill Is Not Good for You or Your Company

When it comes to talent, you and your company have your own ideas about identifying the most valuable employees. That’s the way it should be, since your company’s need for talent depends on its strategy and circumstances. So it stands to reason that your company is in the best position to decide what talent is needed and when.

Now along comes the proposed immigration bill that, if it becomes law, will make that determination for many employers. This bill should be of concern to all those in the recruiting profession, especially those of you recruiting for advanced skills. Here’s why.

The bill’s key provision is a proposed points-based system for awarding work-related visas. A visa applicant would be evaluated on a 100-point scale, with about 50% based on employment criteria, 25% on education, 15% on English proficiency, and 10% on family connections. Minimum qualification: 55 points.

The bill proponents claim the current system gives the most weight to families and relatives and doesn’t do enough to bring in much-needed skilled professionals. This may sound like a good idea in theory, since it would favor people with more critical skills. But on closer inspection it appears that not all is as it seems.

An analysis by the Los Angeles Times showed that the proposed system can produce some rather odd results. For instance, an unskilled, illegal alien can score 21 points with three years of agriculture experience, while a legal skilled immigrant with an MBA, MD, or graduate degree gets only 20 points. Regulation of the points system would be managed by the federal government.

What this essentially means is that bureaucrats would determine what skills are important to business and industry, rather than the employers and, of course, you. So if your company wants employees who do not pass the points test, well, tough. The message from the bill sponsors to employers is: “Trust us, we know what’s best for you.”

Other countries’ experiences with a similar approach have been far from positive. Canada implemented a similar system in 1967. Under that system, a person did not need to have a job offer but just meet the requisite number of points (67). Points are awarded for meeting criteria in categories such as education, work experience, occupation, language ability, and age. Bonus points can be earned for “adaptability.” That is, if the applicant’s spouse is highly educated, or if the person has a relative in the country. (See if you qualify to become a Canadian).

Australia and Britain have similar systems. The limitation of this approach for awarding work permits is that it doesn’t allow for people with unconventional skills or those who might be highly skilled but lacking in professional qualifications. Under the Canadian system, Bill Gates would not qualify for immigration to Canada because he lacks a degree.

I suppose he could just buy the place if he really wanted to. Of course, if Bill really wanted to be a subject of the Queen, then someone in Ottawa would find a way to bend the rules to make it happen, regardless of what the points system allows for. Much the same would likely happen here, as was done for Rupert Murdoch.

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Worse yet, these systems create huge backlogs of people wanting to immigrate but without jobs waiting for them. That is, employers are not necessarily looking for the skills they possess. If the system worked in matching people’s skills with jobs, then there would be no backlog.

Under the proposed U.S. bill, and with bureaucrats running the show, it is highly unlikely that the system will keep up with skills in demand. Given Congress’ propensity for being slow to act (immigration laws change on average every 15 to 20 years), we could also be stuck with a system that was antiquated before it even started.

The new approach would also perpetuate the games that are played with the current one when it comes to getting work permits. Anyone who has applied for an H1-B visa knows that it’s basically an exercise in creative writing. The applicant, or his lawyer, needs to convince the Labor Department that he holds a unique set of qualifications. So a job description is created that ensures that no one but the applicant is qualified for it.

The agencies certifying the applications have neither the resources nor the capabilities to verify or challenge them beyond checking educational credentials. And no one ever verifies that the person receiving a work visa actually does the work their application specified they would do. As many employers know, one of the surest predictors of turnover is the date an employee receives a green card. So if the new bill becomes law, immigration lawyers will just have to find creative ways to get over the points hurdle.

The current immigration bill should be of concern to all those in the recruiting profession, especially those recruiting for advanced skills. The shortage of skilled workers will continue into the indefinite future. A solution is needed beyond what exists today, but this is not it.

The current process is far from perfect, but this bill would just make a bad situation worse.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.

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