By Dan Berthiaume
Temporary work visas are a critical component of the offshore BPO model. Offshore service providers rely on temporary visas to quickly bring skilled resources on board during critical transition periods of BPO contracts. However, as documented in a recent white paper from Information Services Group (ISG), “Time for a Re-think: Visa Issues Require New Approach to Transition Plans,” growing domestic political and economic pressures in the US are resulting in frequent delays and even rejections of temporary visa applications.
These delays are interfering with the aggressive timelines and agendas of most BPO transition plans, but service providers and buyers have not yet adjusted. This is leading to unrealistic transition plans which are doomed to failure.
The Visa Landscape Evolves
As documented in the white paper, BPO service providers have traditionally relied upon the H1-B visa to bring resources into the US to help manage project transition. The H1-B visa grants the holder six years to work in the US, usually with initial approval for two to three years followed by an extension. The holder must be paid the prevailing wage rate for the area where they are working.
More recently, BPO service providers have started using L1B visas, which require the holder to be an employee of their company for at least two years, meaning usually L1B visas go to more experienced workers. L1B visas last for five years with annual extensions, and do not have a prevailing wage requirement. However, ISG data shows that the rejection rate for L1B visas has more than doubled in the past two years, while the application rate for H1-B visas has significantly declined.
ISG says larger BPO providers have responded by distributing visa applications throughout the year to compensate for backlogs and delays, but smaller providers have been struggling. Other responses have been using more US-based workers to help manage transitions and using offshore delivery centers in countries with more favorable visa processing agreements, such as Canada, Mexico and the Philippines.
A New Approach is Needed
ISG says BPO clients and service providers need to develop a new transition approach to effectively deal with this new visa landscape. This new approach has five key components:
Start planning transition upon finalization of agreement – ISG recommends knowledge acquisition (KA) start “in earnest” three to four weeks before transition, with clients accepting responsibility to prepare a comprehensive transition plan rather than assuming the service provider will create one.
Begin transition activities even if resources aren’t on site – ISG says Web-based communication tools such as Live Meeting should be introduced during the first two weeks of KA to enable critical transition processes to launch even if all resources are not yet on site.
Focus on transparency – Once transition is complete and the project reaches “go live” status, the service provider must make the client aware of the visa status of onsite resources. This transparency builds trust and confidence on the part of the client, although clients must understand the current issues affecting visa applications.
Ensure a role for L1 resources in the offshore team – This enables client service delivery managers to align internal expectations and minimize loss of knowledge.
Have a member of the offshore team take the open onshore position – This provides service continuity and positive team influence, and also demonstrates understanding of the importance of the offshore team.