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Executive Profile: Dick Burke, President & CEO Envoy

Immigration and H1-B Visa Insights and Tactics

 
Dick Burke, CEO Envoy - TotalPicture interviewDick Burke

"We believe employees are happier, companies are more successful and our world is a stronger place when people are able to work and live anywhere that opportunity beckons." Envoy Website.

Welcome to a special Big Picture Channel Podcast on TotalPicture, I'm your host Peter Clayton. I hesitated releasing this podcast today, July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States. However, this is actually a perfect topic to discuss as we celebrate our nation's Independence. A great country built by immigrants. Research, like this one from the Foundation for Economic Education has shown that "Immigrants Are Twice as Likely to Start a Business."

I've long believed that anyone on a student visa graduating from one of our colleges or universities (especially those with STEM degrees), should have a Green Card stapled to their diploma.

Today, you'll hear from Dick Burke, CEO of Envoy - whose mission is "to make it easier for employers and workers to pursue opportunity across the global marketplace." Formerly known as VISANOW, Envoy was founded in Chicago in 1998 to help people navigate the stressful, confusing and incredibly inefficient immigration and visa application process.

Burke received his JD from Georgetown University and was part of the original leadership team that built Classified Ventures (Cars.com, Apartments.com, HomeGain.com). He joined Envoy in 2015 as President & CEO.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

COLD OPEN:

Dick: Ten percent of all US employees work for an immigrant-founded business.

Twenty percent of the Inc. 500 CEOs are immigrants.

Twenty-five percent of all US businesses are started by immigrants. It goes on and on and on.

Fifty-two percent of Silicon Valley startups launched between '95 and '05 that went public were founded by foreign nationals.

Fifty percent of all the Unicorns - those are startups valued at over a billion dollars - were founded by immigrants. So the irony is immigrants are huge employers of native-born people.

Welcome to TotalPicture, your podcast resource for innovation, talent acquisition, sourcing, employer branding, leadership, staffing, career strategies and the tools and technologies accelerating business and professional growth. We cover many of the most important recruiting, leadership and HR/TA technology conferences and events throughout the year.

Many opportunities are available to sponsor our award-winning content. To receive our media kit and schedule a free consultation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

INTERVIEW:

Peter: Welcome to a special Big Picture channel podcast on TotalPicture. I'm your host Peter Clayton. I hesitated releasing this podcast today, July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States. However, this is actually a perfect topic to discuss as we celebrate our nation's independence, a great country built by immigrants.

Research like the one in the show notes of this podcast from the Foundation for Economic Education has shown that immigrants are twice as likely to start a business. I've long believed that anyone on a student visa graduating from one of our college or universities, especially those with STEM degrees, should have a green card stapled to their diploma, an idea President Bill Clinton advocated when he was in the White House.

Today, you'll hear from Dick Burke, CEO of Envoy, whose mission is to make it easier for employers and workers to pursue opportunities across the global marketplace. Formerly known as Visa Now, Envoy was founded in Chicago in 1998 to help people navigate the stressful, confusing and incredibly inefficient immigration and visa application process. Their website is envoyglobal.com.

Burke received his J.D. from Georgetown University and was part of the original leadership team that built Classified Ventures, which is cars.com, apartments.com and homegame.com. He joined Envoy in 2015 as President and CEO.

Dick, welcome to TotalPicture. It seems like name change is in the air. I've been working on a video for a client at Beyond, which has been around for many years, a company that's now called Nexxt. Recently, there's been numerous name changes too that have received, as you well know, a lot of social media attention - Tribune becoming something called Tronc and Verizon doing a mash-up of AOL and Yahoo to create something they call Oath.

This is obviously an expensive and time-consuming process, Dick. So why did you choose to rename VisaNow, Envoy?

Dick: That's a great question and it seems to be a popular corporate behavior these days. We didn't embark on it lightly at all. I know and the marketing team knew that it's a big undertaking, one that requires a lot of thought. We really did it, Peter, for two reasons.

One, the lesser reason was there was occasionally some confusion with the credit card industry by virtue of our name VisaNow. People thought we might have been in the payments space. Much more importantly, and the reason why we really made the change, was that we felt that the name VisaNow was far too limiting for us, and it was far too limiting for us for a couple of reasons.

As a technical matter, first of all, we do more than visas. Secondly and perhaps even more relevant, we do more than just the transaction. VisaNow sounds like, hey we'll get you your visa now. We do that, but in the last two years, we've developed a whole swath of other competencies where we have become essentially the outsource consultant, outsource service provider to companies which involves procuring the visa or the necessary work authorization, but also providing many other services: counseling about what is the appropriate immigration policy, counseling regarding compliance and helping with compliance, which is of critical concern particularly in light of the current administration, help with reporting, help with global capabilities; instead of just bringing people into the United States, we can help these mid and enterprise-sized companies send people all over the world wherever opportunity beckons.

So it was really, the name change for us was to reflect our broader capabilities, broader aspirations, broader approach to service delivery.

Peter: That feeds very well into my next question. Can you expand on Envoy's services and solutions?

Dick: Happily. What we do is we make it easier for companies to hire and manage employees across boarders. What does that mean? That means we help employers who are constantly looking for the best talent, we'll talk (I hope) in this call about the difficulties in securing great talent because of the skills gap. So what we do is we make it easier to hire and manage by combining the best of lawyering and the provision of service with proprietary technology that makes the process better, faster, simpler, easier.

We provide the service for companies seeking to bring people into the United States and to companies seeking to send people to destinations other than the United States. We help with, like I said earlier, both the procurement of the requisite work authorization and the management of all the underlying data. These large companies will have hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign nationals and managing that and making certain you remain is compliance is of critical importance.

And then we also have, we're unique in that we wed access to terrific, top flight lawyering with this proprietary technology.

Peter: Let's get into the weeds here a little bit, Dick, and talk about H1b visas which seem to be perennially in the news and the outlook seems rather bleak with the current administration's attitude towards immigration policy. So what's your assessment of the current H1b process and how has the new administration's policies towards immigration impacted your business?

Dick: It's a very timely good question, so thank you for it. The current H1b process is - it's a fascinating one. Perhaps the biggest challenge is separating the rhetoric and the anecdotal instances of abuse from the underlying core problem. The underlying core problem is that there is a persistent skills gap in the United States.

And why is that? The US universities are not graduating enough students with STEM degrees to make up for the demand for these types, for STEM positions. Recall that the US Department of Labor has said that by 2020, there will be 2 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States.

Point number 2, foreign nationals represent up to about 25% of all of the STEM employees in the United States. So there is this shortage of homegrown STEM talent that the shortage is going to continue so much so that the US Department of Labor, by its own estimation, shows 2 million short by the year 2020. What happens is the forest, which I believe that is, is getting lost for the trees, namely anecdotal, rare instances of abuse.

So what our customers are telling us - we just completed a terrific survey of over 400 HR professionals and they are saying, crack down on these rare instances of abuse but more importantly, let's not lose sight of this reality that the skills gap is real; number 2, that our demand for foreign talent is increasing, that if we cannot bring people into the United States to do our work, we will move the work overseas in many instances.

So what these customers are telling us and prospects are telling us, people responding to the survey, is that let's address these instances of abuse but more importantly, let's realize that if we are serious about 4% GDP growth and serious about having jobs in the United States, let's make sure we've got talented workers to do them. So very interesting times.

The second interesting dynamic, Peter, is one of compliance. To make dramatic changes to the H1b program, the administration will require the help of Congress, and we were seeing in other contexts how difficult that is for this administration to secure from the Congress. What the administration can do unilaterally, however, is enforcement actions, and they are stepping up enforcement actions, trying to make certain that employers are following the law.

There is much heightened scrutiny on compliance with people's work authorization and to make certain that people are not taking advantage. So that frankly has played to our advantage because our scale, our expertise and our utilization of technology makes compliance much easier for us than it does for other players in the space. We can quickly help companies determine whether or not all of their employees are in compliance with the work authorization they have.

So longwinded way to say very, very interesting times and need to separate the noise from the reality of this underlying skills gap, and a particular focus in the near term on compliance.

Peter: Yeah, and there certainly is a lot of noise out there to the extent that I think it's scared a lot of people off from even trying to apply to come into this country to work.

Dick: You are exactly right. This past cap season saw about a 15% decline in the number of H1b visas. It went from about 233,000 applications received in 2016 to approximately 200,000 received this past year. The reason why is not because demand is cooling. To the contrary, it's the people who are saying securing high-skilled talent is so important; I can't take a risk on something that is so speculative.

Recall that only 85,000 visas are awarded in this lottery, and so in prior years, you'd have a 1 in 3 chance. People are saying I can't stake my growth strategy on something where I only have a 1 in 3 chance. So they're beginning to look for other ways to secure high-skilled talent and that can be through other visas - L visas for instance, TN visas, O visas on occasion, or frankly even sending work overseas.

That's one of the facts that can get lost amongst all the sturm und drang, namely employers are saying, listen, if I can't get the people here to do the work, I'll just move the work overseas.

Peter: Right.

Dick: And so we have to realize that it is not entirely in our ability to retain work here if we make it too difficult to work here.

Peter: Yeah. And to your point about L visas, I'm interviewing a very interesting gentleman later this afternoon whose name is Jerome Ternynck and he is from France. He came to the United States seven years ago on an L visa, started a company called SmartRecruiters, which now has over 200 employees. So that's one of the aspects of this that I think gets lost with a lot of people. They don't realize that a lot of these immigrants who come in here start companies and hire lots of people.

Dick: That's exactly right. And that reality can get drowned out amongst all the noise. A couple of other statistics that reinforce what you just said about that gentleman, 10% of all US employees - think of this - 10% of all US employees work for an immigrant-founded business. Twenty percent of the Inc. 500 CEOs are immigrants. Twenty-five percent of all US businesses are started by immigrants. It goes on and on and on.

Fifty-two percent of Silicon Valley startups launched between '95 and '05 that went public were founded by foreign nationals. Fifty percent of all the Unicorns - those are startups valued at over a billion dollars - were founded by immigrants. So the irony is immigrants are huge employers of native-born people. So we need to have a policy that's mindful of the job creation that the immigrants frequently create.

Peter: Right. I'd like to spend some time discussing your recent global workforce mobility survey. Listeners, I'll put a link to the survey in Dick's show notes. In the introduction, you'll find this, "CEOs around the world are pointing to workforce mobility as a solution with plans to increase their spending on global mobility by 50% by 2020."

That's a huge number and this speaks to what you were just talking about earlier with, if you can't bring people into the country who have the skills to do these critical projects, they'll just take them wherever they can find them.

Dick: That is exactly right. You summarized the findings very well there. Three drivers: number 1, the skills gap which is real - like I said, the US Department of Labor forecasts 2 million unfilled high-skilled STEM jobs.

Number 2, employers are saying, the world is flat as Friedman said and we will go where the opportunity is.

Number 3, millennials are making very, very clear that they, as they evaluate where to work and evaluate whether to stay where they are employed, 71% of them are seeking a global assignment. They believe that's critical to their development.

So from those three facts of a skills gap, the mobility of business and third, millennials desire for a global assignment, two things are coming out of that. One, the CEOs are saying, we are going to hire regardless of geography and that feeds right into our mission of making it easier to hire and manage employees across boarders; and secondly, they're saying we're going to move our talent to where the opportunity is.

Peter: Right.

Dick: Amazing statistics, 50% growth by 2020, but it's for those very reasons.

Peter: And to that point and which you were talking about, as competitive as these highly skilled jobs are and as few people exist out there that can fill them, when you look at the millennials who do want expat experience, want to have international experience, that's a huge benefit that a company can dangle in front of a potential employee, saying yeah we'll give you an expat experience in two years.

Dick: That is exactly right. It is beneficial for both recruitment of the millennials and retention of them.

Peter: Right. So according to SHRM, 59% of employers expect their demand for work authorization and/or business visas in jurisdictions outside of the United States to increase during the next year, with 20% reporting this increase will be significant. And again, I have to ask, is this related to the strong and well-reported current administration's negative stance on immigration and the kinds of things we've been talking about?

Dick: Potentially. We were thrilled that SHRM is quoting our survey there when they talk about that. You might be inclined to say it's certainly because of that, but certain elements are because of the stance the current administration is taking, which makes it more difficult to bring people into the country.

But there's also the persistent realities that predate this administration, Peter, in namely that respondents to our survey are saying, hey listen, if we want to manage and grow a global business, we need to have people onsite, on location, going where the opportunity is. We need foreign national talent to be portable, to address the skills gap, which is real and only getting worse.

If we want to be globally competitive and take advantage of the largest potential addressable market, which is a global one, we need to be where that opportunity is. And fifth and finally, recognize that foreign perspectives give us new perspectives on business and on opportunity and different ways of seeing things.

So these realities that predate this administration all that drive towards this dramatic growth in global mobility. One of our customers is in the consumer food space and they needed high-tech engineers for packaging. They felt it was getting too difficult due to the regulatory environment around immigration now. They said we can get high-skilled talent in Mexico.

There are these opportunities that exist outside the US, which we need to be mindful of as a country that if we're serious about retaining our lead in innovation and in growing the 4% GDP growth, we need workers here to do those tasks.

Peter: Right, right. And to what you were just talking about, Dick, as you well know, most large corporations today are really trying to hire a more diverse workforce.

Dick: That's exactly right.

Peter: And this is one way they can do it, right?

Dick: That's exactly right.

Peter: And they realize the advantage in doing that.

Dick: You're dead on, and that can be because they bring new perspectives, they bring new relationships, they bring expertise in foreign markets in foreign norms and customs. There's a real benefit in that.

Peter: Right. One of the statistics in your report that surprised me, 70% of employers have a global mobility department. Global mobility and global immigration typically report to the HR function of the organization. Almost half of employers, 46% say 9 or more people handle the majority of the responsibilities surrounding immigration and/or global mobility. I assume these are your clients. So can you share some of the current strategies that they're employing to be able to hire skilled talent that they need?

Dick: Happily. Many of them are our customers. We think of it as break into three buckets the strategies they're doing. One is around sourcing. With almost 100% consensus, 91% said that foreign nationals are important to talent acquisition. So if we are sourcing and looking for the best talent, we are going to look wherever that talent is, and that includes foreign national talent.

As a result of that, these employers are saying that they think the foreign national population is going to grow. Last year they thought, about 34% percent said it would grow. This year 59% are saying growth. So dramatic growth in just the last year with respect to sourcing, that's one thing that the strategies are pursuing.

The second strategy they are pursuing is they're investing in this talent. They realize it's not enough just to find them and hire them; they need to invest in them to retain them, and that investment can take the form of travel packages to allow the foreign nationals to go back home. That travel package may extend to bringing friends and family with, loved ones; housing, a housing allowance to get them situated in their new locale. Many will secure visas for their dependents. The other very popular one is to sponsor the foreign national for a green card, which will enable them to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. So the second big area of strategy and strategic focus is investing.

The third is on compliance. Compliance, we touched on that a bit earlier. The current administration has more authority on compliance than it does on other areas. So what they have said, the Department of Labor in particular and the USCS, has said that we are going to make certain that companies are following the rules. The challenge with this is that many companies have the best of intent, but when you issue a visa to a foreign national, you specify where they're going to work and what their title and responsibilities will be and what their salary is. Many people will progress in their career. They may change office locations or they may get promoted. Those seemingly benign events and actually positive events could throw someone into a state of noncompliance.

So what many of our customers are very focused on now is making certain that they have not unwittingly fallen into a state of noncompliance. Here, again we're very able to help them because of our utilization of access to expert counsel, our scale and our use of technology which makes this task of making certain that you are in fact in compliance very, very easily.

Those are the three biggest areas that these departments are focusing on - sourcing, investing and compliance.

Peter: I read a lot of surveys of CEOs and in almost every survey it states that there are critical projects that are on the shelf because the CEOs can't find people to come in to execute on those requirements. Again, it seems to me that these kinds of issues that you're dealing with on a daily basis. So are there some other strategies that you can share with us, outside of the compliance issues, that HR leaders can use to find and hire the talent that they're so desperately looking for?

Dick: Without a doubt. That gets back to the consulting work that we do on behalf of our clients, one of the reasons for the name change. One is to cast the broadest net possible.

Historically, certain companies would be resistant to seek the higher foreign nationals thinking it was too difficult, too challenging, too expensive. Our whole mission is to make that easier, more predictable, less expensive. So we're encouraging people to cast a broader net and seek out the best talent, optimistic that we can make their life, the process of securing the work authorization easier, number one.

Number two, invest, invest along the lines that we talked about. Offer them green cards after either at hire or upon one or two years of service. Invest in their housing and trips back home.

Number three, cultural simulation. Not surprisingly, foreign nationals come to the United States, they're not used to our norms. Many companies have found terrific return on investment by offering training to both the foreign national and to US business behaviors and just general societal behaviors, and also training the US employees on, hey this is how foreign nationals, your new colleagues, are thinking about things.

The fourth area where we're advising these employers to address the imbalance, frankly, is to partner with universities. Universities are not subject to the cap on the H1b. They can be a terrific source of talent and for many, there can be very good opportunities through partnership with local universities.

But you are dead on, CEOs are telling us over and over and over, listen if you make it too hard here, I'll either postpone the project. About 30% of CEOs told us they were postponing projects, and just a few percentage points less than that are saying they're moving these projects overseas.

Peter: Right. In the no surprise category of your survey, 44% of employers have challenges understanding different regulations in each destination country, and 39% have challenges maintaining accurate records to what you've been talking about. And sort of on that topic, I'm not surprised, Dick, that you have a law degree. It seems this whole topic is filled with legal landmines of ├╝ber sized proportions. So I guess your advice is you better get legal counsel if you're even thinking about doing some of this stuff.

Dick: You're exactly right. Immigration law, while it's all federal law in the United States, it is highly, highly regulated and second only to taxation in terms of the number of regulations issued regarding the underlying jurisprudence.

Number two, it's very, very fluid and this administration is a case in point. All laws change, but immigration laws can change very, very quickly. We're seeing some of that already, like I said in the current administration, particularly in the area of compliance.

Take the fact that it's a highly-regulated field, it's a very fluid field and you're dealing with different laws in each of the roughly 200 global jurisdictions, you need to get a partner and a partner who is very knowledgeable, very savvy, has the scale to deliver for you, who can offer a full service, not just the securing of the visa but counsel regarding what your policy should be around this, how to think about reporting, how to think about compliance, etc., because it's a complex area. The need is very real for other reasons we've been talking about.

So it's been an exciting time for us and we're seeing terrific growth in this context.

Peter: So you're based in Chicago. Do you have satellite offices in other locations?

Dick: We are based here in Chicago. We have a network of global law firms. These are law firms, literally scores of foreign countries that will work with us on cases where we're sending someone into their country. We actually have our own employee up in Canada. So we're blessed due to our scale to have coverage across the globe.

Peter: Like you said, it's an incredibly complex subject and I really appreciate your time today. I encourage our listeners to download your Global Workforce Mobility Survey from 2017. It's really comprehensive and covers many issues and topics we've not had a chance to touch on in this podcast.

Before we sign off, Dick, is there anything in your Global Workforce Mobility Survey or other surveys you've recently published that you'd like to share with my listeners?

Dick: Thank you. Thank you for having me, and you've done really a terrific job summarizing some of the headlines, and I appreciate your offer to share links to those surveys. I'm grateful for that, and I think your listeners will find great information there.

The one fact I would leave you with is really more of a request or direction. As they think about this, there's a real need to separate the truth and the underlying realities from instances, anecdotes that can distract. The reality is if we want to grow and we want to hire as many people in the United States and grow within the United States, there is an incredible shortage of high-skilled talent.

The way to do that is through the utilization of high-skilled foreign labor for all sorts of reasons. One is that it's one way to get the work done in the United States, and for the second reason, they hire as you rightly pointed out a moment ago.

Peter: Right. I think another way of saying that is keep your emotions in check and just look at the facts and the statistics and what your needs are.

Dick: That's exactly right, very well said.

Peter: Again Dick, thank you very much for taking time to speak with me here on TotalPicture. It's been a pleasure meeting you and learning about your company. I really enjoyed it.

Dick: I have as well. Thank you for having me.

Peter: Thank you.

That's our show. If your company is trying to hire foreign nationals or has participated in the H1b lottery, we'd love to hear from you. Your comments are welcome on Dick's show page in the Big Picture channel of totalpicture.com.

While there, please sign up for our free newsletter. You can subscribe to our show on Apple Music, Google Play or Soundcloud and join the conversation on TotalPicture Radio's Facebook group.

You'll find me on Twitter @peterclayton, @totalpicture and @jobsinpods.

TotalPicture is your podcast resource for talent acquisition, sourcing, employer branding, leadership, staffing, L&D, career strategies, innovation and the tools and technologies accelerating business and personal growth.

Opportunities to sponsor our podcast are available. To receive our media kit and schedule a free consultation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

This is Peter Clayton. Thanks for tuning in.

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Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.

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