How To Set Up a U.S. Work Visa Program for Your Remote Employees
Establishing an immigration program for your company can feel like a daunting process. Immigration is a complicated subject, and there are several questions to answer: Which visas and green cards should your company support? What are the associated costs? What are the benefits? And, probably most importantly, where the heck do I start?
This article will walk you through some of the basics of forming an immigration program. We’ll also run you through some common questions to clarify misconceptions.
What are the benefits?
International talent considers visa and green card sponsorship one of their top priorities when searching for jobs. So it’s no surprise that companies of all sizes use immigration sponsorship as a vital tool to recruit, hire, and retain a talented workforce. The so-called “Big Tech” companies, keenly aware of this, have made sponsorship a key perk in their compensation packages.
Sponsored employees have higher loyalty to the companies that sponsor them, allowing these companies to maintain retention rates well above average, even after the employees’ visas/green cards have been obtained. These companies also consistently poll as having higher employee satisfaction.
Many companies, big and small, institute a waiting period to qualify for visa sponsorship (typically around one year). A waiting period allows companies to evaluate if their employees fit on the team before investing in sponsoring them.
Offering immigration sponsorship used to be a perk only affordable by big companies. That model has changed with many new companies and tech firms disrupting the market. Many SMB companies now have the capital to sponsor visas to attract and keep foreign talent. Many SMB companies now have the capital to sponsor visas to attract and keep foreign talent.
What are the drawbacks?
Sponsoring visas and green cards can be expensive. It is not uncommon for law firms to charge costly upfront investments. It’s important to “shop around,” as the difference in cost is substantial from one firm to the next.
Immigration can also be tricky, with each employee’s unique case, even if they’re applying in the same visa category. The complexity of each case requires the expertise of an immigration firm or company like Legalpad to ensure your petitions are filed properly.
Where do I start?
Your company should first ask what you will and will not sponsor. The best place to start is identifying if you’ll cover employment-based visas, green cards, or both.
Employment-Based Visas: Most companies support U.S. employment-based nonimmigrant sponsorship (temporary work authorization) for all visa-dependent employees who are full-time and exempt.
Employment-Based Green Cards: Most companies also support U.S employment-based green cards for the same group. You may choose to provide one of these two or both. Some companies only offer non-immigration sponsorship for work visas and do not sponsor permanent residency (green cards).
One of the most common employee-based green cards is the EB-2 and EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW). The EB-2 NIW has a significant advantage in allowing you to bypass the lengthy and expensive PERM process, which requires several steps -- including testing the labor market through active advertisement of the role, to ensure that there are no qualified U.S. workers. The biggest hurdle of EB green card sponsorship is the PERM filing. Learn about bypassing the PERM process with the EB-2 NIW.
What other coverage can I offer?
Dependents & Spouses: You may also support dependent status for the spouse and eligible children. For example, at Legalpad, we support H-1B and the dependent H-4 status for the spouse or children.
Non-Exempt Employees: You may decide to offer support to employees who are paid hourly, in addition to salaried employees.
Family-Based Green Card Sponsorship: Immigration support for family-based green card sponsorship. For example, a U.S. Citizen employee wishing to sponsor a non-US citizen spouse.
Post-Green Card Matters: Immigration support for all post-green card matters (after the green card is issued and the employee becomes a Lawful Permanent Resident), including green card renewal, U.S. naturalization, etc.
Many companies choose not to cover the categories listed above. It all depends on how extensive you want your program to be.
What costs should I cover?
After you’ve decided what visa and green card benefits you’ll cover, you’ll also need to determine what your company will cover and what costs will be covered by your employees.
At the base level, it’s common for employers to cover filing and legal fees associated with their visa or green card. That said, most employers will not reimburse immigration filing and legal fees if an employee chooses to use the services of an independent law firm.
You can choose to cover several other associated costs or not cover them. Here is a list of additional costs you should have outlined in your policy:
- Employee’s application fee to obtain their visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy
- Employee’s international travel cost for visa stamping
- Visa stamping fees and travel costs for dependents
- Family-based green card processing
- Post-green card matters
- Immigration support for non-immediate family members, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.
The above list is also not exhaustive of all costs. Reach out to Legalpad with questions regarding the specific requirements for your policy. Regardless of what you choose to sponsor, getting a policy in place up-front is important. Don’t wait for the perfect candidate to come along, only to scramble to put together a package for them and have a firm grasp on the cost.
Having your process already in place also gives you the advantage of advertising immigration benefits in job descriptions, the compensation/perks section of your website, recruiters, and any job postings. Many foreign-born job applicants actively seek out companies that offer sponsorship. So it’s essential to make your policy clear and advertise it wherever you can!
Ready to set up an immigration program?
Get your copy of our Setting Up An Immigration Policy checklist.
One thing you’ll want to identify from the start is who will be handling your petitions and applications for you. There are many options available, like working with an immigration law firm, an independent lawyer, or a work visa tech company such as Legalpad. At Legalpad, clients have a dedicated staff attorney and legal assistant assigned to their case.
The timeline for expected approval will vary depending on your applicant and the sponsorship they are seeking. Offering premium processing is one way to cut down on that time. For eligible categories, the USCIS will review your employee’s petition within 15 days for a cost of $1,440. (fees subject to change). Standard nonimmigrant petitions (i.e., not premium processing) typically take four to six months for a decision and can vary depending on the requested nonimmigrant category. Good news! Premium processing will be available for the EB-2 category in 2022. Check with the Legalpad team for an update.