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As companies hire more and more foreign workers, they’ve had to pay increasing attention to the complexities of U.S. immigration law. During the tech boom of the nineties, the government was relatively relaxed about bringing in employees from overseas, but that business-friendly attitude came to an end with 9/11. In its efforts to keep out potential terrorists, the Bush administration has stepped up enforcement of immigration restrictions. And not only are the rules and regulations more daunting, but the bureaucracy is too: This spring the 70-year-old Immigration and Naturalization Service split into three new agencies. Owen “Bo” Cooper, the last general counsel of the original INS, spoke with assistant editor Heather Smith about the problems these changes pose for multinational companies. The 41-year-old lawyer now heads a new federal enforcement and corporate compliance group in the Washington, D.C., office of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. He’s also teaching a course in immigration law at The University of Michigan Law School. Corporate Counsel: Will companies see any benefits from the division of the INS? Bo Cooper: There may prove to be over time, but I think there’s going to be a lot of growing pains and a long period of increased complications for companies that are trying to bring in workers from overseas. . . . Companies must be much more carefully attuned to the nuances of the immigration system, to ensure that they are looking out for the shoals. CC: How has immigration policy changed since September 11? BC: Let’s say you’re the general counsel or director of human resources for a company, and you’re trying to bring in executives or specialists from overseas. The maze that you have to get through has become terrifically more complicated. There are much more extensive security checks. There are far more face-to-face interviews for those seeking immigration benefits. There are much greater delays. The consequences of lapses can be more severe. I know of instances in which people have been approved by the immigration authority to come to this country, say in a specialty occupation. Then at the stage of going to a consulate to get their visa, they have been subjected to delays approaching a year, just because of increased security checks. And that’s after the immigration authority has already approved their petition to come here. CC: Is the government targeting specific industries? BC: Companies that were in any way affiliated with airports, companies that were in any way affiliated with the nuclear industry, companies that are located in national landmarks or places the government thinks could be the targets of terrorist attacks � [all] have found themselves faced with much more rigorous government audits of their [employee] records. CC: The Bush administration has a reputation for being business-friendly. Are steps being taken to mitigate the impact of the new policies on companies? BC: I think the people in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who are trying to get the new bureaucracy set up, are intent on doing so in a way that can promote good business and strong immigration practices at the same time that they protect the security of the country. [But] the administration set a very ambitious schedule for the creation of the department and for the transfer of functions into it. . . . Only the most basic decisions were made at those earliest stages, and a lot of the details remain to be worked out. CC: Should companies continue to recruit foreign workers? BC: Economically and intellectually, the country gains immensely from a robust immigration policy. . . . The benefits to the U.S. economy of multinational corporations are huge, and those companies will continue to need to transfer their top executives and managers and specialists among their [worldwide offices] and into the United States. [And] there will be companies in this country that will continue to need specialized workers from overseas, when those positions can’t be appropriately filled with American workers. CC: Why is immigration so controversial? BC: [Because] the country is so ambivalent about what it wants from immigration policy. . . . There’s always some seemingly intractable immigration issue facing the country, whether it’s refugee situations, business needs, controlling illegal immigration, or national security vulnerabilities.

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