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3 Ways to Apply for a Work Visa

When the perfect candidate for your growing startup is a foreign national, getting their work visa should be simple and affordable. Figuring out how to compile a visa application should be just as straightforward.

There are three ways to go about getting a work visa, and companies of all sizes have the same three options.

This article explores the pros and cons of each avenue through the eyes of a startup, and a few considerations to keep in mind.

DIY – hardest but free

Technically speaking, a lawyer is not required to file a visa application. Many non-work visas, including tourist and family-based visas, are often self-completed. And while it’s not advised to go the DIY route for a work visa, here’s what you need to know if you’re willing to take the risk.

  • Pick the right visa category. Startups often have a few visa options, though admittedly some visa categories are better than others for startups. Be sure you fully understand the nuances of each visa category to avoid wasting time and money working on the wrong visa application. For example, if your candidate is a junior engineer with just a few years of experience under their belt, the O-1 is not the best fit. 
  • Determine your budget. When we said that DIY is “free,” we just meant free of legal fees. There are still filing and other fees associated with submitting visa applications. Some fees are required, like the $460 filing fee for Form I-129, used for H-1B, O-1 and other work visas, while other fees are optional, like the $1,410 fee for Premium Processing.
  • Collect the right supporting evidence. Government forms are just the very top of a long list of requirements needed to file a visa application. Employing companies need to provide a myriad of documentation and information such as the candidate’s diploma, passport, letters of recommendation, evidence of professional achievements and more, depending on the type of visa. And don’t forget about providing evidence about your company too. Startups in particular, by virtue of being new and relatively unknown, often have to demonstrate their own legitimacy as much as the legitimacy of the candidate.
  • Figure out your hiring timeline. Not only does gathering evidence often take longer than expected, bumps in the road come up when, for example, it turns out that a diploma is in the candidate’s native language and you need a translation and credential evaluation. Plus, the USCIS can take months to adjudicate a visa application, a hiring timeline can help you determine whether you want to spend the extra cash on premium processing to get your results back faster.
  • Add a few professionals to your speed dial.  With Requests for Evidence (RFEs) at their highest rates, it’s a good idea to have a plan B in case USCIS comes back and asks for more evidence before making a decision on your visa application. While you can also do this part alone, it’s worth getting a second opinion from a professional about what documentation to provide based on what the government determined is lacking from your visa application.

There are many other considerations you may have to take into account when filing a visa application, so while it’s definitely possible to go the DIY route, outsourcing it to a professional will save you a lot of headaches.

Law Firm – most expensive

Employers looking to hire foreign nationals have, for the most part, traditionally turned to immigration lawyers for help. Just as employers come in all shapes and sizes, so do law firms. There are solo practitioners who handle everything themselves, small firms with a few lawyers and a small support staff, mid-size firms that provide big-firm services at a slightly lower cost, and a handful of “biglaw” immigration firms with offices all over the world. Each type of law firm has its own pros and cons.

For purposes of this article, we’ve grouped solo practitioners and small law firms into the “small” category, and mid-size and “biglaw” firms into the “large” category. Let’s jump in.

Small law firm

The biggest benefit of working with a small law firm mirrors the biggest benefit of going with Dunder Mifflin to buy paper: the promise of great customer service. By virtue of having fewer employees, smaller immigration law firms tend to have few, if any, layers between client and attorney. This means that when you want a consultation, you speak to a lawyer. When you have questions during the visa application process, you speak to a lawyer. When the foreign national candidate has questions, they speak to a lawyer. In other words, small firms are much more accessible.

The other benefit of a small immigration law firm is that they often more affordable than a large firm. Since small firms take on fewer clients, often times lawyers can handle more of the work they typically hire others to do, which lowers headcount and overhead. Even office space is cheaper. Large law firms tend to be in corporate offices, while small law firms often share office space or even work out of a co-working space, thereby lowering bills and passing those cost savings onto their clients.

However, there are some downsides of working with a smaller firm. For example, small firms tend to vary more in terms of their level of technological sophistication. So while you might be able to talk to your lawyer every time you have a question, you might also have to send them paperwork via mail because they don’t have a proprietary case management system. Or you might have to check in with them on the progress of your case rather than having a dashboard you can log into yourself.

Another potential downside is the lack of overarching expertise. By default, working with a larger firm means a broader range of expertise. This is actually why you may find a smaller firm that specializes in work visas. Rather than try to handle every type of visa under the sun, a small firm might pick a niche and stick to it. And while that’s a good marketing strategy, it also means that if you’re working with a small firm that specializes in high volume H-1B visas, but it turns out that an O-1 visa is the best option for the candidate you have in mind, you either have to hope that firm can do a good job or go with someone else altogether.

This back-and-forth can be a headache, and is part of the reason companies that have the budget tend to select a large law firm. For startups, however, smaller firms tend to be the better option since they’re less expensive while still providing excellent service.

Large law firm

Large immigration law firms, in contrast to their smaller counterparts, have all the signs of a big business. Corporate offices spaces, impressive websites, international locations, large teams and so on. There are a handful of large firms that practice exclusively immigration law, and there are also “biglaw” firms – you know those fancy corporate law firms with offices in Midtown Manhattan – that have small immigration practices inside them that are able to leverage their broader firm’s resources and infrastructure.

The benefits of selecting a large firm really become evident for large clients: investment banks, massive tech companies, global media agencies, etc. These clients pay high retainers, have a dedicated partner and team of attorneys and support staff, and get the kind of white-glove treatment small firms give to their clients, but at scale. More importantly, though, is the fact that large firms have a vast amount of expertise based on their sheer size, and can be truly impactful for unusual or otherwise complex cases that might be outside the expertise of a smaller firm.

Of course this doesn’t mean that large firms don’t have their own downsides. Larger firms tend to be very expensive, and there are layers between the client and attorney. Clients, especially the foreign national candidates themselves, often talk to paralegals and other staff as front line support. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does show the added layers of bureaucracy, which can be frustrating. Large firms are also slow to adopt new technology, leaving customers frustrated who, in their day-to-day lives, are used to ordering cabs via Uber and booking accommodations via Airbnb, and expect the same user experience from their professional service providers.

So which firm is right for you?

To circle it back to you and your startup’s hiring needs, it will all depend on your budget and how complicated your visa situation is.

If you’re a startup, the best bet may be a small law firm. A smaller law firm is more economical mostly because it’s the cheaper option and the lawyer-first customer service model helps ease any anxiety that can come with the immigration process. Plus, if you’re hiring a software engineer or other technical professional, odds are that your case isn’t too complicated and a small firm will do.

But if you really want the benefit of large-firm legal expertise, combined with small-firm customer service and user experience, get your visa through Legalpad.

Legalpad – fastest and easiest

We’re transforming the slow and complicated work work visa process in the U.S. to be fast, easy and accessible for startup founders and specialized workers. We automate the application process and cut down the time it takes to create a visa petition from weeks to days.

Legalpad is the best option for startups to get their work visas.  As a startup, we get you in more ways than a law firm ever could. We will strategize the best visa options for you based on not just our immigration law experience, but our experience as a startup.

We’re also faster than any law firm out there. Our software gathers information from you and your candidate through an intuitive interface and automatically populates all the appropriate immigration forms. The application is then reviewed by one of our top-rated immigration attorneys before being sent over to you for your final review and signature. By intelligently automating the information analysis and gathering process, we drastically cut down the time it takes for you to get your visa.

So if you’re want to hire that perfect candidate and a work visa is the only thing that’s stopping you, give us a shout. We’ll help you get the work visa, so you can get back to work.

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About the author:

Allison Davy

Vice President Marketing, Legalpad

Allison helps startup founders from around the world navigate the complex U.S. immigration system so they can pursue their goals and purpose.