This blog is the second in a five-part series focusing on opportunity generated by volatility in today’s mobility profession. Here we review volatility’s impact on immigration. In subsequent blogs, we’ll examine volatility’s impact on tax, policy/programs, and the opportunities presented for internal structural change and growth. We end the series with the fifth and final blog and a timely discussion of organizational change management.
As pointed out in our first blog post on the topic of volatility and the opportunities it presents, volatility is commonly defined as “characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change.” Given all that is occurring in our world pandemically, socially, politically, culturally, and economically, it is fair to conclude that we are living in volatile times.
Therefore, never has the aphorism “with change comes opportunity” been more relevant. At this moment, it is applicable throughout society in general and in the mobility profession particularly.
One change in which we are all collectively participating is “working from home,” which in reality means working from anywhere – so much so that social media, legacy news outlets, and family get-togethers (with appropriate social distancing of course) are rife with discussion of this “new” concept and what it means for the future of work.
This is in spite of the fact that the work from home concept is not new, but that’s for another time. This concept has gained popularity and never more than in the corporate corridors –well at least home offices – of senior business leaders throughout the land. Why? For many reasons, not the least of which is potentially reducing mobility cost by moving the job to the talent rather than the talent to the job.
Perhaps you’ve heard about Barbados’ recent promotion of a “12-month Work from Anywhere Welcome Stamp?” If you have work/life flexibility, this visa gives you the ability to work for 12 months from an island paradise. Keeping with the tenor of this blog, the promotion states up front, “Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous challenge to people around the world, we believe it has also opened up opportunities.” (emphasis added). Sound familiar?
Assuming you have the work/life flexibility to soak in some sun (not to mention the self-discipline to remain focused on your umpteenth Zoom meeting of the day without succumbing to the call of the sea or, more likely, a rum mauby), Barbados may be for you! But as with all good and noble ideas, trouble may be lurking around the corner of paradise, whether your definition includes sun and sand or snow and skis. In a word, compliance. Immigration compliance to be precise.
Immigration Compliance During Extended Work from Anywhere Periods
Immigration inherently comes with plenty of questions, no matter the location. Add a trendy Work from Anywhere ethic, and these questions are multiplied. The potential mobility of all employees, not just assignees, as a result of Work from Anywhere could be an opportunity for increased awareness of the need for immigration program management.
The fact that employees are working from anywhere will make it important for companies to understand where their employees are doing work and whether or not they have the ability to work in that jurisdiction. This is where a robust employee travel tracking tool like the one offered by Aires is critically important.
If the employee is working in a country in which they have citizenship or automatic work rights, then this would not be a concern. However, if an employee is working remotely as a visitor or in a country where they do not have work permission, then work authorization would need to be received prior to engaging in any work, even if done virtually.
Despite carrying a low risk of being exposed by audit or inspection, should authorities find out that an employee is working unauthorized in a particular jurisdiction, fines for both the employee and the employer could be imposed and future work sponsorship in that jurisdiction could be prevented.
As more and more employees could need exceptions and immigration sponsorship, a company’s policies and preparation need to be consistent for all employees and not be viewed as unfair or advantageous to particular groups of employees at the expense of others.
The following are some additional considerations when reviewing your immigration and/or mobility programs:
- The physical closure of consulates and visa application centers, as well as limited staff, means that even as travel restrictions or travel quarantines are lifted, there will be a delay in visa processing due to limited staff or operational capacity.
- COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a harsh impact on many country’s economies and labor forces; therefore, it is not unreasonable to consider that governments will aim to more strictly enforce and enhance their compliance of foreign work initiatives and laws to promote the use of their own labor force at the expense of an influx of foreign workers.
- If companies consolidate operations or offices across the globe as a result of COVID-19, they will need to be astute in understanding the impacts or consequences this could have on current foreign workers they are sponsoring whose sponsorship may hinge on the operations of certain locations.
- Duty of care will be a continuous theme for employers. Not only do they need to follow government guidelines and restrictions as it deals with no-travel rules, but one must ask if indications of COVID-19 cases create a liability if an employee becomes sick traveling or once in a new destination?
- What are the impacts of employee liability waivers for individuals going on an assignment? Permissible in the applicable jurisdiction? Is this a company culture the employers want to create?
Volatility has clearly provided an opportunity for companies to rethink their work cultures, processes, procedures, and not to mention their mobility programs. As companies consider Work from Anywhere among many potential changes, they will want to do so in conjunction with a review of its potential impact on immigration.
Similar consideration must be given to tax and tax liability, which is the topic of the upcoming third installment in our five-part series on volatility and opportunity.
Bobby Bartle, Esq. Director, Immigration & Legal Affairs, Aires
Tim Kernan, Account Executive, Aires