Dear Sophie: What are the quickest immigration options for bringing in international talent?

What are the quickest immigration options for bringing in international talent?

Dear Sophie,

Our startup is recruiting engineers. We have a small office, but most of our team works remotely. Some of our new potential recruits would want to work in the office; they are international students (graduating in December), as well as some individuals from abroad who have worked with us remotely as contractors. What are the quickest visa options we should consider? Can their supervisor work remotely? Anything else we should keep in mind?

— Rigorous Recruiter

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Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

Dear Rigorous,

It’s so interesting to hear that your prospective recruits want to work in an office! During a recent chat with William Tincup, a consultant and expert in tech recruiting, he said that he and other recruiters find that since the pandemic, most tech talent—except for recent graduates—want the freedom to work remotely anytime and from anywhere. As you might have guessed, students and recent grads want to meet people and form relationships that come with working in an office with team members. Sounds like that’s true of the international talent you’re looking to recruit as well!

Starting with your second question, let’s dive in! Supervisors are not universally required to work in person with visa holders. However, supervisors can help guide and support new hires and impart your company’s culture, which is very important for employee connection, happiness, and retention. And the exact relationship and amount of oversight depend on the specific immigration category you’re considering.

Next up, are options for the international students graduating in December.

Hiring F-1 students is a quick option!

After at least one full year of academic coursework, international students on an F-1 visa are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). This allows individuals to get work authorization that enables them to work full-time for one year. Under OPT, students have two options:

  1. After completing a full year of coursework, they can work part-time (20 hours per week or less) while continuing with their coursework, which is called pre-completion OPT. Students who work under pre-completion OPT for one year can work full-time for another six months.
  2. Or after graduation, students can choose post-completion OPT, where they work full-time (40 hours per week) for one year. Most F-1 students chose this option.

If you extend an offer for post-completion OPT to somebody who completed some amount of pre-completion OPT, talk to them and the Designated School Official (DSO) at their school about how much of the full 12 months they have remaining.

So you’d like to hire an F-1 student? What’s next?

Employers do not need to file anything to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for OPT. But keep in mind that under OPT, the work that an F-1 student or graduate does must be within her/his field of study, and he/she is responsible for applying for a valid Employment Authorization Document (work permit) through Form I-765. Many employers choose to support their new hires by completing this immigration process.

Considerations for the student:

F-1 students or graduates must contact the DSO at their university to get an OPT recommendation entered into their SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record.

Students or graduates who are doing pre-completion OPT can apply to USCIS for work authorization (Form I-765) up to 90 days before they complete a full academic year. Students should not start working on OPT until the first full academic year has ended.

Students or graduates who do post-completion OPT can apply for work authorization up to 90 days before they complete their degree but no later than 60 days after they earn their degree. They must submit Form I-765 to USCIS within 30 days after their DSO enters the OPT recommendation into their SEVIS record.

USCIS can take many months to process Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards, and the duration is variable.  So I recommend filing the I-765 to USCIS as early as possible! Many students report faster adjudication times when they utilize USCIS’ e-filing option. Remember, an individual can only start working once she/he has the EAD card in hand.

Looking at the year ahead, in March, you can enter individuals on OPT in the H-1B lottery. Here is an episode of my podcast in which I talk in more detail about the lottery and registration process.  You can also consider cap-exempt H-1Bs without the lottery.

Great news for students whose degree is on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List! They are eligible to apply for a two-year extension of OPT, which is called a STEM OPT extension. STEM OPT requires employers to devise a formal training plan for the individual. A two-year extension will also allow you to enter the individual in the annual H-1B lottery two more times. Take a look at this Dear Sophie column that discusses STEM OPT in more detail.

Other speedy options for international talent!

Engineers already living and working in the U.S.

The quickest option would be to find engineers who are already living and working in the United States on a work visa and file a transfer petition to a new employer because scheduling a visa interview at most U.S. embassies and consulates often remains difficult. And although the U.S. Department of State has given consular officials the authority to waive visa interviews in some cases through the end of this year, few such waivers are being granted.

If you hire international talent already in the U.S., look at this previous Dear Sophie column where I talk about the fastest immigration options, particularly transferring an H-1B visa to a new company.

The O-1As

Sponsoring individuals for an O-1A extraordinary ability nonimmigrant (temporary), visa is also a relatively quick process for those who qualify. Don’t let the description of the O-1A overwhelm you or the potential hire.

Many of the startups we’ve worked with have received approvals for O-1As. You do not need to have a Nobel Prize, there are other ways to qualify! Such as:

  • holding patents,
  • receiving an international prize or award,
  • publishing articles in professional or major publications,
  • and more.

Other options

You can get work visas for citizens of certain countries, which are relatively quick and easy to get. Some even qualify for premium processing, whereby USCIS guarantees to process an application within 15 calendar days for a fee. The visas aimed at individuals from specific countries are:

  • TN (Treaty National) visa for Canadians and Mexicans enables an employer to sponsor a Canadian or Mexican citizen in certain professions, such as engineering or computer systems analyst, with a bachelor’s or higher degree. Premium processing is available.
  • The H-1B1 visa is a fast-track H-1B visa for individuals who are citizens of Chile and Singapore. Premium processing is available.
  • The E-3 visa for Australians is very similar to an H-1B visa, but employers can sponsor an individual for an E-3 at any time of year. Premium processing is not available for an E-3 visa. However, these visas are relatively quick to obtain.

Be proactive!

My last bit of advice is to be deliberate about developing a company culture that embraces and supports diversity and helps team members take responsibility by optimizing for their peace of mind.  Their ‘one thing’ should be what they are responsible for to the growth of your startup; everything else that they might be worrying about should be taken off their plate!

Proactively providing immigration security to your international hires, such as sponsoring them for green cards and demonstrating your ongoing commitment, will help attract and retain talent.

You’ve got this!

— Sophie

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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.

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