The ability to employ the most talent from around the globe is a critical success factor for organizations of all sizes. However, deciphering the complex U.S. immigration landscape is a non-trivial task.
While large companies such as Microsoft and Accenture have long hired the best of the best – no matter where they live – the difficult and expensive process has dissuaded many smaller organizations.
However, now is the time for small businesses to take advantage of immigration as H-1Bs (the most popular employment visa) are still attainable.
To help you understand the basics of how to hire foreign nationals and get started with the U.S. immigration process, I’ve collaborated with Robert C. Meltzer, the CEO of VISANOW, an online global immigration services provider, to highlight five immigration essentials.
1. Identify the options. There are more than thirty types of U.S. visas that you can apply for to employ a foreign national, which are categorized as either non-immigrant (temporary) or immigrant (permanent residence).
Based on the number of approved visa applications from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (2000-2009), the top five most popular non-immigrant visa categories are H-1B (specialty occupations), L-1 (intra-company transfers), E-2 (treaty investor), H-2B (seasonal temporary worker), and TN (treaty-based visa for Canadian and Mexican professionals). In the immigrant visa category, work authorization is most often secured through an employment-based green card.
2. Play matchmaker. The ability to employ a foreign national will be dependent on their current immigration status or visa type they may already have. U.S. citizens or foreign nations with valid green cards can work for any employer, but professional visa (H-1B, L, and TN) holders are employer-specific. If a foreign national is not authorized to work in the U.S. and requires sponsorship, it is essential to review the criteria and requirements of each visa as initial requirements, employment opportunities, and restrictions will vary significantly.
By matching the qualifications of your foreign national and job duties with the requirements of the various visas, you will be able to identify which visa will be best suited for that specific employee.
For example, an L-1 visa requires employees to have worked with an affiliated company abroad for at least one year prior to transferring to the U.S. Further, when deciding on visa type, you should consider the length of employment as visa validity and extension terms also varies e.g. H-1Bs and L-1s are both valid initially for three years, but an H-1B is extendable to six, whereas, L-1s may be extendable for an additional two-seven years.
3. Understand the process. The general immigration process begins once you decide to employ a foreign national and determine which visa to pursue. The initial step is for you and/or foreign national to gather the required documents and information such as pay stubs, university diplomas, employment verification letters, etc. Then your immigration services provider/attorney will prepare the visa application.
Once the application is finalized, your immigration services provider submits the visa application to the government, where several government agencies become involved in the processing of your visa application. While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is chiefly responsible for managing U.S. immigration, other agencies involved in the immigration process include: the Department of State (DOS), the Department of Labor (DOL), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), etc. The government will ultimately approve, deny or if necessary, may request further information on a visa application.
4. Recognize the timeline. When a foreign national can actually begin working is the most common inquiry in immigration, which is why understanding timing relative to the process is critical. Visa application development and processing will depend on: how quickly you and/or your foreign national can gather the required documentation/information mentioned above, how responsive your immigration services provider is and how quickly they can turnaround a high-quality application, and government processing time.
Thus, dispelling a widespread belief, you do have control over application timing, since part of the process depends on you/your foreign national and your choice of immigration service provider. The factor that you have limited control over is how long it takes the government to review the application which can range from thirty days to a couple of months.
However, if you need a work visa in a hurry, premium processing, which guarantees turnaround in fifteen calendar days, may be available for select visas.
5. Account for the costs. Government filing fees will vary by visa type, but the filing fees of the top five employment visas range from $320 to $2,320 with a new H-1B application as the most expensive to file.
In addition to government costs, employers should account for attorney fees, which can range from $2,000 to $6,000 depending on the fee structure of your immigration services provider (flat fee per case or hourly billing based on time spent on the case).
Also, by taking advantage of the fifteen-day expedited processing will cost you an additional $1,000. If the immigration costs exceed your allotted budget, you can opt to split the sponsorship costs with your foreign national (besides certain costs such as the fraud prevention and detection fees that employers are required to pay for).
With over thirty employment options, U.S. immigration can be a cumbersome – but the ability to successfully decode the process could be the difference between surviving beyond the recession or not. Here is a compilation of U.S. immigration resources.
My collaborator in this posting, Robert C. Meltzer, esquire, has over 24 years of experience in immigration law and is the founder and CEO of VISANOW, an online global immigration and visa service provider, an author, and adjunct professor of International law. He has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a juris doctorate from Northern Illinois University College of Law.
(Disclosure: Garage Technology Ventures invested in VISANOW.)