HR Guide: Needs & Expectations of Foreign National Employees
Why am I qualified to write this article?
I started my career as a foreign national, who needed visa sponsorship to work. Then went on to hire people who needed work visas. Today, my company WayLit helps employers stand out and attract the best talent by making immigration management easy.
Why is this article important?
I think we can all agree that talent is the new gold. The companies that are successful at attracting and retaining the best talent gain a competitive advantage in their business fields. If your company hires people in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields then this article may interest you because most of the candidates that you will come across will be foreign nationals. Therefore, understanding their perspective would help you communicate in a way that makes them feel that they are in good hands.
Give Immigration its fair share of consideration
Many times employers tackle immigration as just another step in the whole recruitment process. For foreign national employees, it is one of the most important steps when they make a decision to come work for you. Therefore, talking about immigration in detail is very important. Every employer has their own way of introducing immigration process to the candidate but here are some best practices:
Acknowledge - that you understand how important immigration is to the candidate
Assure - them that they are in good hands and that you and your immigration partner will make the process transparent and easy to go through
them if they have dependents whose status may need to be changed
If this is a visa transfer case would they will be willing to start with the company on a receipt notice or would they need an approval to start
Prepare - Set expectations on the timelines of the transfer process and clearly point out the fees that the company will pay for and what the employee is expected to pay
Different stages, different expectations
All foreign national candidates don't have the same needs and expectations. Their needs (and associated expectations) change as they progress through their career and immigration life-cycle. Let's break this down from the perspective of a foreign national at different stages of their career and immigration process -
CATEGORY 1: FRESH GRADUATES | F-1 (OPT)
Primary Motive: Land a job
As an international student who just graduated, my primary motive is to land a job because that's what keeps me in status. I have to coordinate a lot of things so that my OPT starts at around the same time that my job starts. With all things to handle and with no experience with employment-based immigration, these would be my primary questions and concerns:
Is this an e-verify employer? This is to extend my 1 year OPT (Optional Practical Training) to an additional 2 year STEM OPT.
Is the employer willing to put me through the H-1B lottery or sponsor another work visa? This is because that's the only sure way for me to stay and work in the U.S. after 3 years of OPT.
Does the employer have a history of sponsoring H-1B visas? I may go and search through the publicly available Labor Condition Application (LCA) data to see if my prospective employer has filed any visas in the past. (Hint - No LCA history may be a point of concern for the candidate. The best way to tackle it is by ensuring them that you have a strong immigration partner)
Does the employer understand what I-20s, OPT and STEM OPT mean? I want to know that you understand that immigration is very important for me.
How soon would the employer put me through the lottery? Since the H-1B lottery is dependent on pure chance, as an international student, I want to make sure that I can maximize the number of chances I can get to register for the lottery.
CATEGORY 2: CANDIDATES ON WORK VISAS (H-1B, H-1B1, E-3, TN)
Primary Motive: Gauge Self Worth
As a foreign national employee who already has a work visa in the U.S., I understand what it would take to transfer my visa over to another employer. At this stage, my questions are not just about the H-1B but also about the role, the salary, and about moving to the Green Card.
What's my role? As I fit into the work culture in the U.S., my focus now changes to self-worth because my basic needs are met as an immigrant. So, I want to understand if this is the role that I am looking for.
What's my salary? I want to know if I am going to be paid enough, not just over the prevailing wage but will I be paid a competitive salary.
Is this a company that I can grow in? I am also thinking if this is the company that I can fit in and grow with. Does this role provide me upward mobility? What are the chances of this company laying off people? How do I get to the higher positions? Is this a team that I'd like to work with?
Will this company sponsor my green card? This is the big question. I still don't understand the complete process but I'd like the employer to get started on it quickly. I'd like to know how long would I have to wait before the company starts my PERM process? (Hint - It's a good idea to have a standard immigration policy that talks about the waiting period between the start date and starting the PERM process)
CATEGORY 3: CANDIDATES ON WORK VISAS + PERM
Primary Motive: Sustainability
Now that I have spent a few years on the H-1B and my current employer has filed for my PERM, I am not going to want to move unless an offer comes by that is very hard to resist. I am looking for sustainability, looking to get to the next steps - I-485 and if I move, I'll have to start the green card process all over again. I am on the path to living my American Dream, why do I want to risk it? So, my questions now are going to be:
Am I moving to a company that I feel strongly about? Because my current company has covered all my basic needs, I need a bigger motivation to make the next move - title, growth, financial reward - these are the things that now are more important to me.
Does this next position put me in a high career growth trajectory? This stems from the point above. With my basic needs met, I am now looking to cover my career needs better.
Is the salary considerably higher than what I am making currently? Salary increment could be enough for me to sacrifice a year or two that I spent towards my PERM process. I may make the switch to the new employer for the right compensation.
What happens to my Priority Date? This would be my biggest concern, my priority date is my place in the line for Green Card. (Hint - it's a good idea to talk to them about this concern and let them know that their priority date won't change when your company files a new PERM for them).
What if my last employer rescinds my PERM? If I am still waiting for my employer to file my I-140 then I would be very concerned about losing my priority date. (Hint - it's a good idea to assure the employee that your company will file their PERM in 3-6 months of their start date)
How soon will the company file my PERM? If I already have an approved PERM then it is important for me to know that my new employer will file a PERM for me as soon as possible. (Hint - it's a good idea to assure the employee that your company will file their PERM in 3-6 months of their start date)
Has this company filed any Green Cards before? As a foreign national employee now understanding how complex the whole green card process is, I want to make sure that my new employer understands what it takes to get me through the green card process. I'd like someone to tell me that they understand that getting a green card is a big deal for me and they understand how the process works. (Hint - here's an HR Guide on the green card process)
Can I move my PERM to the new employer? I want to know if it is at all possible for me to just transfer my PERM to the new employer just like my work visa? (Hint - unfortunately, PERM cannot be transferred over to the new employer.)
Would the move create a problem if my PERM is pending? If I am waiting for a PERM approval and I transfer my job, what happens to my PERM? Would this work against me in my immigration history? (Hint - changing employers while the PERM is pending does not cause any immigration issues for the candidate)
CATEGORY 4: CANDIDATES ON WORK VISAS + PERM + I-140
Primary Motive: Growth
At this stage, I have all my things in order, I have a work visa that can be extended indefinitely, I am in the Green Card queue and now it's time to deepen my roots and grow my career. Whatever concerns stopped me before are no longer big hurdles. I want to start looking at potential roles with these things in mind -
Can I get a 2x - 3x career growth with this move? If I am going to sacrifice leaving an employer who has got me an approved I-140, I need more than just a title change. I am looking for a considerable shift to make it worth my time.
What does my salary raise look like? Salary would be a big consideration especially if the only thing that kept me at my current employer was the hurdle of getting to the I-140 milestone.
What happens to my priority date? I would be worried if my priority date would be affected if I change employers. (Hint - once an individual has an approved I-140, their priority date stays the same whenever they change employers)
Will the new company file for PERM for me? For me to keep in the line for my green card, my new employer would need to file for a new PERM for me (in most cases). When would this new employer do it? (Hint - it's a good idea to assure the employee that your company will file their PERM in 3-6 months of their start date)
Would the move create a problem if my I-140 is pending? I'd be worried how this move would affect my priority date, PERM and my pending I-140. (Hint - if an I-140 is pending and the employee moves to another employer, the previous employer may withdraw the I-140, which may result in the employee losing their priority date)
CATEGORY 5: CANDIDATES WITH DEPENDENTS
Primary Motive: Stability
If I have dependents, I want to make sure that their status is not jeopardized because of my visa status. So, I am looking for a stable job in a company that's not going anywhere. I am less likely to work for startups or small sized companies. At this stage, I would like to know -
How focused is the employer on employee satisfaction? If I am going to stay with the employer long and have a family that is dependent on me, I'd like to know how much the employer cares about my experience at the company. With the responsibility of dependents, I don't want to worry about workplace issues.
Does the employer take immigration seriously? My dependents are my responsibility. So, I want to make sure that my employer understands that the stakes in immigration are very high for me. I'd like my employer to tell me that they take immigration seriously and will make sure that the ball isn't dropped while handling my case.
How soon will the employer put me in the green card process? Being in the queue for the green card will give me the most stability. Primarily because my wife can start working and that adds to my household income. I may have questions around filing my I-140 with premium processing. (Hint - agreeing to do the I-140s with premium processing may be an added benefit that employees in this category look for).
Would the employer share or shoulder the immigration costs for my dependents? Even if there is a small cost for changing the immigration status of the dependents, the employee may expect the employer to shoulder the cost. (Hint - it's a good idea to talk about dependents with foreign national employees and clearly outline the company policy).
We are sure that you have had experiences that are very different from what we've suggested above and you have figured out processes that work best for you.
To share experiences, ask questions or tell us about your best practices, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a WayLit-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.