Webinar Recap: Hiring Visa Candidates as a Startup

October 6, 2022
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Hiring visa candidates is a great way to bolster your recruitment efforts and find talented candidates.But there are so many questions that are left unanswered by difficult to understand legal guides. After months of fielding questions from talent professionals in our network, we decided to call in the experts and get a full understanding of what it takes to hire an immigration candidate as a startup.

This webinar covers topics such as: an outlook of the  stem labor market, how to set up an immigration program, questions to ask when hiring international talent and potential disadvantages of hiring visa candidates. In this blog post we’ll break down these big ideas into more bite sized chunks. Watch the full webinar below for an in-depth conversation on hiring visa candidates as a startup.

The War for Talent and International Candidates

Immigration processing requires a significant financial and time investment. It also maintains slower onboarding times, more compliance requirements, and generally more risk. Even with all of those disadvantages, hiring international candidates is the best chance many startups and SMEs have of hiring talented technical candidates in this competitive market.

Tech unemployment is at an all time low of 1.7% and it’s become harder than ever to find the talent companies need to grow. On top of an exceptionally tight labor market, the demographic data for major tech hubs like Silicon Valley paint a clear picture of where the industry is headed. More than 60% of tech workers are foreign born. Additionally, the numbers of workers from India and China alone actually surpass the number of US born tech workers in the Valley  (figures roughly 38% China and India combined compared to 32% United States born). Although immigration figures declined slightly since COVID, many experts expect that the tech immigration trend is not stopping anytime soon.

In addition to growing trends, a globally diverse workforce has many benefits. With increased diversity of ideas and creativity, international hiring affords more opportunities to onboard rare talent and specialized candidates. Immigration programs also make it easier for companies to expand into foreign markets with global leadership experience that can only be obtained through exposure to those markets.

Immigrants have started more than half (319 of 582, or 55%) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion or more. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. billion-dollar companies (unicorns) were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Almost 80% of America’s unicorn companies (privately-held, billion-dollar companies) have an immigrant founder or an immigrant in a key leadership role, such as CEO or vice president of engineering. From startups to publicly traded companies, the data is clear - increased diversity correlates to increased performance

Building out an immigration program

So now that we understand the why behind hiring international candidates, let's talk through the how.

After working with companies of all sizes and industries, we have developed some basic guidelines to help them properly leverage immigration.

Building out an immigration program can be boiled down to five simple steps:

1. Integrate visa pathways with the employee lifecycle

2. Gain a general awareness of compliance

3. Develop robust communication with candidates

4. Document a clear immigration policy

5. Find and onboard a tech-enabled legal partner

Some companies will have basic immigration experience, and some will be starting from scratch, no matter the stage or industry, immigration is possible to handle in a streamlined fashion. It does add some burden but the payoff is worth it in terms of being able to play the talent game.

Questions to ask when hiring international talent

It is also important to realize that deciding to have a build out immigration program is not an all or nothing decision. You can tweak various levers. If you have a provider that is used to setting up and expanding programs for scaling companies and understands the level of immigration policies required at various growth stages then you can cultivate a program that works for you today and you can tweak it in the future.

Some companies want maximum immigration benefits to help onboard as many folks as possible, others limit the roles they will sponsor and want to be very cost conscious, opting to build out a clear and cost sensitive immigration policy. All that to say that deciding to hire foreign national talent is not an all or nothing proposition.

Some levers that can be adjusted as one thinks through what the immigration program might look like at any company include:

• Which roles are open to immigration sponsorship?

• Which parts of the process will the company pay for?

• Will dependent family members’ immigration costs be covered?

• When is the company willing to start Green Card cases?

• When will immigration benefits be made available to employees?

For those speaking with candidates and companies trying to budget for international employees, it is critical to understand the timelines, costs, and life cycle of a typical international candidate. The visa candidate lifecycles can be long and complicated so understanding the basics is incredibly helpful in setting expectations, understanding the commitment being made, and understanding how to leverage immigration benefits to attract certain talent.

Disadvantages of hiring visa candidates

As mentioned above, there are some significant burdens that come with building out immigration programs but if you believe the candidate will drive your team’s growth, it will most likely be worth it.

Typically these burdens are an upfront investment of time in working with proper counsel to set the program up the right way. Then the other burdens are typically handled by an understanding of what the issues are and then an exercise in expectation setting for internal stakeholders.

Some of the disadvantages to hiring international candidates include:

->     Onboarding can take longer if hiring a candidate who is in need of immigration sponsorship and transferring from one company to another.
->     Costs - government filings fees + attorneys fees + some degree of company admin time all of which can be greatly reduced by having the proper partner and tech stack. You could have someone who needs an H-1b transfer (which may cost $6-10k) then an extension for about the same fee, then a Green Card process for another $10-20k depending on certain factors. So while the cost is not insignificant, it is manageable and can be tweaked based on company policies.

->     Salary - While this is not typically an issue for STEM based roles, there are some minimum salary levels which can cause some issues. Typically these minimums tend to affect companies based outside of the tech hubs who have employees work remotely from tech hubs.

Clear and consistent policy is the key to successful immigration programs. Even if a company is not able or willing to build out massive programs with hundreds of immigration hires, the companies who take the time to set up a proper policy are most likely to find success.

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