Visa applications

Staying on the topic of HR and yesterday’s post, here’s a comment from Bardon:

We do outsource visas, not sure if that is in the HR bag. We use a well know international firm for this, the McDonalds of visas and right now I am thinking that we will be getting our Canadian mob to use them as well.

Visa applications and work permits do fall under HR, but not all manage the process competently. The best I saw was in Russia where the company I worked for had a small team of HR women dedicated to nothing other than renewing the quotas and applying for work permits for the thousand-odd people we had on site. They even arranged the medicals for each person. That said, it took them a few years to get the system working well; incentives were provided by new laws imposing heavy fines on any company caught employing people on a business visa.

The worst I saw was a Malaysian friend of mine seconded to the UK for 6 months by a giant multinational and expected to enter the country as a tourist and work on that. HR didn’t even mention the issue of a visa, but when I asked him about it he made inquiries. HR’s response was that as a Malaysian he shouldn’t need a visa to enter the UK. It seems HR professionals involved in sending people on overseas assignments are not always aware of the difference between a tourist entry visa and a work permit.

The laziest I saw was when I was sent to Australia. My company had a full local HR department who’d decided to outsource visa applications to an agency, presumably being too busy to do the administration themselves. The agency contacted my colleague and me, directing us to the government visa page where we could find the application form along with an instruction to fill it in and send it back to them. So it was left to us to work out what visa we were applying for, what company addresses to put, what durations, etc. My colleague spent several weeks trying to assemble documents proving her grandparents’ birth dates before I eventually wrote a blunt email to the agent asking why this was necessary for a 6 month assignment. He wrote back and said it wasn’t necessary, because we were only on a 6 month assignment. I have no idea what my company was paying this agent on top of their own HR staff, but their added value insofar as visa applications went was nil. In fact, it might even have been negative: they gave us advice on how to renew our initial visa which turned out to be completely wrong when we turned up at the immigration office.

From what I’ve seen, outsourcing visa applications can work well but you need to get the right agent. And if it’s really important and you have a lot of people who can’t be relied upon to do it themselves (e.g. manual labourers), you might be better off keeping it in-house.

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5 thoughts on “Visa applications

  1. Working overseas in various international schools I find that HR departments work best in small schools. Usually everything is kept in house and the people that do the job are respected by management and new teachers are told you don’t mess with the visa person at your peril. A warning sign for me are schools which don’t email the visa requirements soon after the contract letter, because they always take a long time to sort and there is rarely rushing them.

  2. The hard part is that each country is different, so yes you can keep it in house on a country by country basis if you have big enough headcounts and visa turnover by country to warrant it.

    It is like customs brokerage, no one person or team, no matter how good they are can run it for an international firm because each country is different and you need experts that are up to speed with each countries specific and ever changing requirements to advise you and they are normally nationals of that country.

    Another larger firm that I worked for done it in house and it worked very well.

  3. The hard part is that each country is different, so yes you can keep it in house on a country by country basis if you have big enough headcounts and visa turnover by country to warrant it.

    Quite, so you keep in in-house locally.

  4. Were you in Russia when they started the process where you had to get a piece of paper stamped after arrival… and before you left the country? You had to remember to do that while you’re busy and rushed to prepare for a trip. Thankfully, they didn’t require me to show up at their local office personally. We had a great administrator who kept track of everything who sat in my building. She handled my plane tickets , so she knew in advance when I was leaving. The day before departure, she would collect my passport and take it to the visa office to get it stamped. When I returned, she’d chase me down to get my arrival stamp. I was always so grateful for her efforts. Our Russian administrators were excellent.
    About 2 or 3 years before, a guy in the same department got fired for sending a Russian employee to the U.S. on his existing tourist visa since there wasn’t time to get a business one. That was sad, but probably necessary. Intel didn’t like rules to be broken.

  5. Friend of mine (British) was offered a job in the US. The company said “can you start in 3 weeks?” He said “err, no, a) I have a 3 month notice period, and b) YOU need to sort the right visa for me as employer.”

    Time passes.

    “OK, can you start in 3 weeks now?”

    After a number of go-arounds he decided that if they couldn’t get their heads around a) a 3 month notice period and b) that you couldn’t just move to the US on a visa waiver and start working, and c) this needed action at their end, that they were not a serious organisation, so he dropped it.

    A US friend was rather cynical and wondered if they were trying to entrap him for some reason. I thought this idea was ridiculous since it seemed to me to just indicate utter incompetence. And possibly a bit of cool-aid drinking on the immigration politics front.

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