Viewpoint on Visa Reform: Steps to Take to Mitigate Risks
By: Mark Orttung, CEO, Nexient
Discussion of visa reform accelerated with the 2016 elections. Without formal legislation, we have seen administrative changes from increased scrutiny over visa extensions (USCIS), spousal visas, etc. PULSE asked: Have the changes impacted your organization? What visa reform risk-mitigation steps are you considering?
Nexient is a 100 percent domestic Agile software services company, so you might expect that visa reform and administrative policy would have zero impact on us. That’s not true.
We’re fortunate to have our tech hubs in locations like Ann Arbor, Michigan, with a huge wealth of local talent. But we share the perspective of many U.S. tech companies that the H1-B visa program — when used as intended — plays an important role in driving American innovation and attracting great tech talent to our country.
We do have a small but highly valued group of visa-sponsored team members with specialized skills. I’ve been concerned to see the recent policy changes coming out of USCIS creating a lot of anxiety for these people. They’re following all the rules, working hard and supporting the U.S. economy, and suddenly hear that their visa may not be renewed or that their spouse may be prevented from working. It’s disruptive and unfair.
The biggest impact is on our clients. Fortune 500 companies spent the last two decades moving much of their technology to global outsourcing providers, whose business model depends on visa-sponsored workers in the U.S. liaising with overseas development teams at night. Many are coming to us for help on their visa risk mitigation sourcing strategy.
- Accelerate automation: A lot of outsourced tech work is fairly routine. Computers, not offshore or guest workers, should be taking these jobs. There are still too many manual processes quietly lurking in the corners of most large enterprises. Find, re-engineer and automate them.
- Identify and pressure-test domestic models: Visa risk mitigation is not the only reason companies are looking to scale their use of domestic sourcing. (Others include the need for Agile collaboration, lack of physical space, tapping out their local employment markets, need for cultural context, etc.) But scale doesn’t happen overnight. It’s essential to get due diligence and MSAs out of the way, get some pilots running and then put pressure on the model with bigger, more ambitious programs. That way, when you experience a sudden ramp-up need, you know you’re ready.
- Beware overweight offshore ratios: With visa changes impacting the cost and availability of guest workers, global sourcing companies have been encouraging clients to increase offshore ratios – maybe to 80 or 90 percent. After all, this is one way to reduce client costs and increase service provider margins.
But even a mature outsourcing engagement can break if you adjust it too radically. Don’t underestimate the vital role that onshore teams play in understanding your business, and translating that understanding to overseas colleagues. Even in our domestic model with Midwest tech hubs, we like to have some onsite consultants.
Naturally, we’re biased, but our clients report that lower offshore rates are more than offset by the speed, quality, context and productivity of U.S.-based teams collaborating in real time.
About the Author: Mark Orttung, CEO, Nexient
Mark began his career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), where he focused on software and methodology development. Mark also exercised his entrepreneurial drive there, helping to launch the Institute for the Learning Sciences, Palo Alto Center for Strategic Technology, and a start-up SaaS company incubated at Andersen. He went on to product and development leadership roles at Rearden Commerce (now Deem), GetThere, and Genesys. Genesys and GetThere both went public and were later acquired for a combined $2.25 billion. Before joining Nexient in 2014, Mark was President and COO of Bill.com, a SaaS offering allowing companies to automate their payables and receivables. Under Mark’s leadership, the company grew revenue by almost 350% in his last two years.