Dear Sophie: Any advice on visa issues for new hires?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Dear Sophie,

I run operations at an early-stage startup, and I’ve been tasked with hiring and other HR responsibilities. I’m feeling out of my depth with hiring and trying to figure out visa issues for prospective hires.

Do you have any advice?

— Doubling Down in Daly City

Dear Doubling,

I hear a lot from people like you who are in the same situation at early-stage startups. This came up when I chatted recently with Erin Teter and Lydia Buurma for my podcast. Teter and Buurma are experienced HR professionals who I’ve known for years. They’re currently working in HR at LINQ, an edtech company that provides cloud-based administration and finance solutions for states, districts and schools.

“HR is a full-time job,” Buurma said. “When you talk about creating company culture, setting the company’s mission and values, you want to include people in that discussion and you want to get buy-in from core employees and figure out what characteristics future employees that you want to bring in should have.”

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

The next best option

If your startup cannot afford to bring on a full-time HR person right now, Teter recommends that your company at least bring in an HR consultant to help evaluate your company’s situation, set up practices and assist with issues.

“Usually consultants are connected with immigration attorneys and other experts who can help you work through the process,” she said.

Buurma added that HR professionals can share key basics with you, such as what questions can and can’t be asked during an interview and the differences in employment law between states if your company supports remote work. “There are a lot of questions you can’t ask in California that can be asked in other states,” she said.

It sounds like you’ve already discovered that hiring talent increasingly requires some knowledge of immigration and the timeline for various options given the stiff competition for talent these days. Buurma stressed the importance of educating all stakeholders about immigration and getting buy-in from executives and hiring managers.

Immigration is an ongoing process

“The immigration process is not a short, one-and-done process,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process that needs constant attention. You have to be organized about it because of the government requirements.”

That involves everything from sponsoring an individual for a work visa and filing an initial visa petition to I-9 compliance inspections to filing a renewal to what to do if a visa holder’s job duties change or when a renewal isn’t possible.

There are also some immigration basics you should know. For instance, all work visas require a petitioner, so work visas are usually tied to specific employers, which must pay fees associated with the visa application. (Also, note that employers cannot garnish wages to pay the costs associated with applying for or renewing an H-1B.) In addition, most work visa holders have a 60-day grace period to find another job and work visa option following termination of employment. Take a look at a TechCrunch article I wrote that lists some of the most common work visas that startups use to sponsor talent.

You may also benefit from listening to my podcast episode on how to save money in the immigration process.

Establish an immigration policy

Buurma advocates establishing a company immigration policy in advance that spells out when your company will sponsor an individual for a green card.

“You want to be consistent,” she said. “Having an immigration policy helps you avoid bias in the hiring process and performance management. You want to make sure your company policies support people who are deserving of promotion and company investment.”

I discuss establishing a company immigration policy and other things companies can do to recruit and retain international talent in this previous Dear Sophie column and this podcast, which features 11 tips for companies to consider to attract, support and retain their talent.

I love what Teter had adopted as her personal mission statement as an HR professional: “I want to create a workplace where employees come to work each day because they love what they do and feel a sense of purpose rather than just being at work to collect a paycheck.”

Wise words to live by.

All best to you in your recruiting efforts!

— Sophie

Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!