In 2015, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt sarcastically called the U.S. immigration process “a brilliant strategy,” adding, “We take very, very smart people, bring them into the country, give them a diploma and kick them out where they go on to create companies that compete with us.”
Despite the diverse talent pool in the United States, sometimes the best fit for a company is a foreign national, but bringing an employee to the United States is a challenge for companies of all sizes.
Most employers choose to sponsor employees through an H-1B visa for expediency’s sake (the turnaround time for non-immigrant visas are generally quicker than U.S. Green Cards). But the application process is fraught with challenges and can be expensive. Not to mention even employees who receive an H-1B visa can’t start officially until October 1.
Congress caps available H-1B visas at 85,000, with 20,000 of those reserved for workers with a master’s degree or above, and for more than 10 years, accepted proposals have been decided by lottery. For the fourth year in a row this year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reached the cap in the first week.
In fact, the USCIS received a record 236,000 petitions in 2015, meaning that more than two-thirds of applications for H-1B visas were denied.
With that kind of statistic, needless to say it’s important to get your H-1B visa application right the first go around and get started now.
USCIS is currently accepting H-1B petitions and all petitions are due by April 1, 2017.
What are the Requirements for an H-1B Visa?
An H-1B visa is the most common way for employers to sponsor professional workers in the U.S. In order to qualify for sponsorship, the employee must hold a position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in the field.
Once approved, an H-1B visa allows employees to stay and work in the U.S. legally for up to three years. After those three years, the visa can be renewed for up to six years.
What are the Costs for an Employer to Sponsor an H-1B Visa?
H-1B visas cost employers about $5,000 (including government fees) per employee. Immigration lawyer fees cost on average $2,000 to $3,000, while filing fees are usually about $3,000. Employers must also have enough money in the bank necessary to pay the H-1B employee’s salary for a reasonable period of time. The analysis is on a case-by-case basis.
How to Petition for an H-1B Visa
Employers must file the petition for the visa on behalf of employees, who are not allowed to self-petition, and cannot petition more than six months before new employees’ start dates. Every company, regardless of size or maturity, must petition for one of the only 85,000 H-1B visas made available every April 1 by USCIS. Note that 20,000 H-1B visas are reserved for workers with advanced degrees (a master’s degree or above).
Before filing an initial petition, every company must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The LCA is a series of statements that attest to the fact that hiring the H-1B employee will not adversely affect any U.S. citizen workers. This includes the following statements:
- the employee will be paid the average wage for the role
- the employee will receive the same benefits as others in the role
- the employee will not negatively affect the working conditions of other employees
- there is no active labor dispute or work stoppage in place at the time of hiring the employee
Within 24 hours of filing, the LCA must be made available in a Public Access File to any member of the public who requests it, meaning the H-1B employee’s wage is obtainable by anyone.
And the difficulties hardly stop there. After the LCA is filed, things can start to get sticky.
In order for an H-1B visa to be approved, the USCIS must determine that a company is properly established and has the cash flow necessary to provide the H-1B employee the average wage for the role as established in the LCA. While this is normally not a problem for large corporations, midsize companies and startups sometimes aren’t yet profitable, and to sponsor an H-1B visa, employers must be able to show evidence of financial stability.
This can be achieved by filing information about any funding rounds, but other evidence to prove viability may also be necessary. Other forms of proof to consider include a business plan, employee contracts and/ or leases for office space. An annual report or U.S. tax return may also do the trick.
Since 2011, there have been various passes at creating a “Startup Visa” specifically designed to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to establish their businesses in the U.S., but so far Congress has yet to pass any reforms.
With increased scrutiny of current immigration laws, change is certainly in the future, but in the meantime, any employer interested in hiring foreign nationals should consult an immigration attorney with experience with the H-1B process.