Please check out this guest post by Elizabeth LaRocca, Esq.

All companies face challenges in locating and hiring the right talent. For start-up and small companies, securing employees with needed skills is vital for growth, profitability and even survival.  In a competitive market, business prospects are uncompromising in their expectations and requirements. Thus, companies at all stages of development must be able access the entire available talent pool, including global talent.

When attempting to fill positions, particularly IT and tech-related positions, it is almost inevitable that growing companies will be faced with immigration-related hiring challenges. Typically, the experience involves an inability to fill a position with a U.S. worker or encountering attractive candidates requiring immigration sponsorship to work.

For the inexperienced, immigration requirements, procedures and terminology seem daunting. But, even small companies should not set aside this option, nor the depth of talent it holds. The first step is to seek reliable guidance at the earliest stages, when a company is first trying to determine whether they can hire a candidate. The company needs to engage in planning, to help facilitate future hiring options, based upon knowledge of cycles and deadlines which apply to commonly utilized immigration categories.

There are costs associated with acquiring global talent. Small companies are often particularly cost-conscious, as they contend with limited resources and cash flow considerations. However, there are also costs associated with recruitment, and—even more importantly—-costs and losses tied to turning away the right candidate for the job. Employers simply need to recognize and weigh the value of bringing needed skills to the company vs the costs associated with strategic hiring of global talent. In addition, foreign employees typically bring a different work ethic and skill set to the job that can benefit the employer in many ways.

Employers who are contemplating an immigration program within their hiring options, must set realistic budgets and understand basic options and time frames. They must understand which costs they must bear, and which can be shared with the prospective employee. As with most endeavors, planning can help with cost control.

A starting point in this process is to understand two of the most common immigration categories which an employer may encounter when hiring professionals.

F-1 (students): Foreign students are typically eligible for a period of employment known as Optional Practical Training (OPT) upon completion of their degrees. OPT is initially granted for a 12-month period. Thereafter, certain students with degrees in designated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are eligible for extensions of 24 additional months. Students acquire 12 month OPT without sponsorship. Additional requirements apply to the 24 month OPT extension, including employer involvement. However, with planning, most employers find that it is worth the effort. This can also be a good way for companies to grow and to test out employees before committing to longer term options.

H1-B (specialized knowledge professionals): The H1-B category is for temporary professional workers. This category is appropriate for degreed (or degree equivalent) professionals working in positions which require a specific degree (or narrow range of degrees.) This category is common for IT professionals, engineers, business analysts, researchers, scientists, physicians and other professionals. Employers must be aware of one key challenge of this category. This is the annual limit to the number of individuals who can be approved each year. This is known as the “cap.” This cap limit, in turn, creates an April filing deadline which must be met to have a chance to be selected and approved for one of the limited cap spaces.

Not all H1-B cases are subject to the cap. Employers who may need to utilize this category need guidance regarding which cases are subject to the cap and which are exempt. (Cases which are not subject can be filed at any time.) If cap subject filings are needed, it is important to identify this need and start the process well in advance of the deadline.

The key to competing by hiring the best employees is to keep an open mind and engage in planning and budgeting. The effort and expense associated with hiring global talent is simply another required outlay, like all other business expenses, for many employers. This talent is leveraged throughout the U.S. by the full range of companies, start up to fortune 500. Businesses which are not open to these options risk falling behind their competition and losing business opportunities in the marketplace.

For more information, contact Elizabeth LaRocca at Steptoe & Johnson or 202-429-1351