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February 5, 2007 

 Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on H-1B Visas 12/12/2006
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

VISANOW's logo CHICAGO Ė Currently CEO of Chicago-based VISANOW, Robert C. Meltzer is an author, lecturer and recent adjunct professor of international law at the Illinois Institute of Technologyís Chicago-Kent College of Law.

In part two of a three-part Q&A, Meltzer sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss immigration policies and H-1B visas.

Michael Muth: How does the U.S. visa and immigration policy compare with other regions and countries?
Robert Meltzer: The regulations that govern immigration are more extensive in the U.S. than IRS regulations because itís a big issue here. No matter whatís going on in the global economy, thereís always more opportunity here. That creates a flow of immigration. Conversely, in most other countries, itís not an issue. Theyíre not concerned about strenuous immigration laws.

They do not perceive a threat of you immigrating there. Only the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom use lawyers for immigration and Canada and the United Kingdom use it much less than in the U.S. The U.S. stands alone in needing legal assistance in navigating these regulations. In other places, itís simply administered like making an application to get your driverís license.

MM commentary: Having lived and worked in Europe (Germany and Poland mostly), I found the Germans were just as focused on managing their visitors. I had to spend more time at my residence and work-permit offices than I ever wanted.

MM: Which countries are sending over the most H-1B visa holders?
RM: China, India and Pakistan are the highest concentration because they have the combination of requisite education in those countries and the desire to move to the U.S. in search of greater opportunity.

MM commentary: Those countries are pumping out a lot of techies as well.

Michael Muth: Has the flow of H-1B visa holders slowed down?
RM: You have to take a look at the new applications versus renewals. The cap is only applied to the new ones. If you have an H-1B, you can transfer to another employer without being subject to the cap. Before 2000, they were at 65,000. It was increased to 195,000 three years later and now itís down to 65,000 again.

Every year, there are approximately 250,000 million renewals. Each year, the cap is met earlier and earlier in the year. They offer the new application numbers in October at the start of the government fiscal year. You can make those applications six months earlier. The applications start coming on April 1. In 2006, the cap was met in seven weeks. Weíre already stacking up new ones for next April.

By April 1, half are gone. Companies like IBM and Microsoft are now asking Congress to increase the cap before the end of the year. The need for high-skilled workers needing H-1B visas has been increasing.

MM commentary: Ultimately, the flow of H-1B visa holders has leveled off after jumping and then slowing down again.

MM: What problems do visa seekers typically run into?
RM: Eligibility is the big one. Someone finds a candidate who is fantastic, but for some reason or another, theyíre not eligible. Setting eligibility requirements is how we frame what we believe are important attributes to have before one is allowed to visit or immigrate here.

H-1B is not the only category. However, H-1B visas are used most by corporations and require the minimal educational level of a bachelorís degree in the specific required area. If they donít have it, you have to look for other ways to get a visa for that person.

Timing is another problem. For example, if a foreign national graduates from college here, you have to be careful about the timing of the application of the work visa or H-1B. You might not be able to have a student start work on Monday if you can get the application approved in less than three months.

For issues such as timing, we push information to our clients constantly. The holidays are coming up and whoís traveling is always an issue when applications are pending.

MM commentary: The U.S. is still the destination of choice for many. I know of a number of foreign colleagues from Thunderbird (my international business school) who had to return to their home country after not meeting eligibility requirements.

MM: Does VISANOW guarantee approval regardless of employee background?
RM: While we guarantee everything, we have to reserve the right to not make an application if we donít think itís meritorious. As soon as we get started and accept the request, we guarantee it 100 percent. I donít see that anywhere else in the legal profession or at least in immigration. We can do it because our success rate is so high.

MM commentary: I wonder how many applications are found to not be meritorious.

MM: How might they lose their visa? How often does that happen?
RM: Theyíre not revoked very often. Case of not actually being qualified or fraud donít happen too much. There are grounds for kicking people out Ė i.e. they become deportable if they commit a crime Ė but that doesnít have anything to do with the application process.

MM commentary: If or when it ever does happen, I would bet we hear about it (not unlike the Jose Padilla case going on right now).

MM: What have been the results of cracking down on immigration?
RM: It has been in the news this year. It might have been in response to the marches for benefits earlier in 2006. They took 1,200 people into custody. While this may sound like a lot of people, there are 12 million undocumented illegal immigrants. Are they making much of a dent in undocumented workers?

MM commentary: The media hype makes it seem like there was an immigration crackdown.

MM: What has been the impact on educational institutions?
RM: In Jan. 2002 after Sept. 11, 2001, the immigration service issued visas to two of the terrorist pilots on vocational visas. Itís not a surprise theyíre not doing those any more. It became tougher for the universities and it has always been tough any way.

There are 500,000 foreign nationals attending school in the U.S. People getting scholarships at Harvard were getting denied if it was thought they were going to immigrate. After Sept. 11, they closed the doors even tighter on students coming from countries who are deemed to be terrorist-friendly. The U.S. Department of State has become more restrictive on people from those areas.

MM commentary: Thunderbird was adversely impacted after Sept. 11 and not just by denying students from terrorist-friendly countries. Thunderbird has had as much as 50 percent of its student population from outside the U.S. and students from all over were being denied entry.

MM: Does VISANOW handle other necessary paperwork for immigration (social security, banking, etc.)?
RM: We offer a lot of direction on the Web site on how to obtain those documents. Though it is an added service that we donít promote or charge for, it comes with the territory.

MM commentary: Some outbound service providers offer these services for Americans going to other countries and charge a pretty penny for their services. Know what youíre getting and paying for if you employ them.

MM: Why bring over workers on visas when we can just outsource to them in their country?
RM: First, you donít outsource a core competency. Developers donít outsource development. If development is ancillary to being in real estate, it wouldnít be so critical.

Second, outsourcing is still relatively new as a strategy. While I do believe weíll see it more and more, people will still come to the U.S. There will still be need and desire to come here. Outsourcing wonít impact immigration. The number of immigrants continues to go up.

MM commentary: Developers are outsourcing development and core competencies, but if given the opportunity, some of those foreign developers would come here. The fact is itís still more expensive to hire foreigners and bring them here than it is to hire them near their homes where itís cheaper.

MM: VCs have required start-ups to have an outsourcing strategy as a requirement for financing. Should the same apply for an immigration strategy?
RM: Thatís interesting. I hadnít heard that VCs require that.

An immigration strategy should be required when itís part of a hiring strategy. We help companies with their immigration strategy. If immigration is part of their daily life, they need to create an overall policy. Any company with more than 5 percent of their people asking for a green card should have an immigration policy with best practices.

MM commentary: Though itís a bit of a goofy question when posed on this side of the pond, I wouldnít be surprised if Indian VCs are very concerned about immigration strategies allowing Indian nationals into the U.S.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at mike@intlalliances.com.
Click here for Muthís full biography.

Previous Columns in 2006:
Q&A: Robert C. Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW in Chicago, on Online Immigration (12/5/2006)
Q&A: Morningstar CEO Mansueto on Role in International Investing Scene (10/31/2006)
Q&A: Morningstar Founder, CEO Joe Mansueto on Mutual Funds, Investing (10/17/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicago on Chicago as a Success Story (9/19/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicagoís Tom Bartkoski on Chicago vs. Other Cities (9/12/2006)
Q&A: World Business Chicagoís Tom Bartkoski on Economic Development (9/5/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of 1SYNC in Chicago, on Enforcing Data Standards (8/15/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Standards (8/8/2006)
Q&A: Robert Noe, CEO of Chicago-Based 1SYNC, on Data Synchronization (8/1/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Creating Sports Innovation (7/11/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Chicago-Based Sportvision on Whatís Coming Next (6/27/2006)
Q&A: Mike Jakob of Sportvision in Chicago on Enhancement Technologies (6/20/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Culture (6/6/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Japanese Expansion (5/30/2006)
Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Compliance, Partners (5/16/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Trade Shows (4/4/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on International Partners (3/28/2006)
Q&A: Lakeview Technology Founder Bill Merchantz on Overseas Expansion (3/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese Readiness (2/7/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Chinese, U.S. Differences (1/24/2006)
Q&A: Steven Ganster of Technomic Asia on Approaching Chinese Expansion (1/17/2006)
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.


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