Navigating US Visa Process and why US Employers don’t like hiring outside US.

As a recruiter in the accounting field, I have to deal with Visa candidates often. In many cases its easy (transferring an H1-B or someone is on a EAD) and sometimes its difficult (If you are currently in India and not a US citizen).

I thought it would be first beneficial to list some of the different US Visas:

  • F1/OPT: The F1/OPT visa process is the most proven and sure fire way to get employment in the US. Everyone who studies in the US from a foreign country automatically gets brought in on a F1 visa. This visa allows you to study in the US. The OPT is the work authorization visa for F1 Visa holders. When you are on an F1 and you either take an internship or graduate and take on full employment you need to file for an EAD card which is granted under the OPT work visa. This allows you to work legally in the US. The OPT Visa is a term limited work visa that is good for 12-18 months total. That means if you work 3 months during an internship and then graduate you will only have 9-15 months left on your OPT visa when you take a permanent position. If you wish to continue working in the US you will need to have a new visa before your OPT expires. That leads us to:
  • H1-B: The H1-B visa is the most common work visa in the US, the primary long term work visa, and the most desirable visa to be on. It is typically good for 6 years, and can lead to a Green Card. The H1-B is tricky though: Since their is a quota of new H1-B visas issued every year, some years getting a new H1-B is very difficult (although this is less so in recent years). In addition, not everyone who applies is automatically granted an H1-B, although a good immigration attorney should be able to tell you your chances pretty accurately. The H1-B allows you to work for nearly any employer within your specialty and once you have one, it is relatively easy to transfer visas between firms. H1-B visa holders almost always have been on anotherUS work visa before receiving the visa, this is due to the lag between applying for the visa (usually in April) and receiving the visa (always in October). The H1-B can be renewed for up to 6 years, at which point you will need to be in the Green Card process in order to continue legally working in theUS.   
  • L1 Visa: The L1 is much less favorable than an H1-B as it has more restrictions. Typically an L1 visa holder will have problems transferring their visa between new firms and in the event of layoffs, for instance, usually the L1 visa holder will need to return to their home country. Sometimes an L1 can be transferred between firms from the same country, but there is no guarantee. If you have an L1 visa or are planning on coming to the US on an L1 it is wise to discuss these limitations with a good immigration attorney. Occasionally an L1 visa holder can be moved to an H1-B, but this is never guaranteed and will need the cooperation of your current employer.
  • J1: The J1 visa is a “training visa” meant for limited term employment in the US for training purposes. Most J1 visa holders worked for an American firm in their home country and then were brought to the US on a J1 for 12-18 months of training. It is difficult to transfer the J1 visa to another visa type and very difficult to come in on a J1 visa and switch firms.
  • TN Visa: The TN visa program is a part of the NAFTA treaty signed by US/Canada/Mexico. It allows skilled workers to effortlessly work in a member country. It is an easy visa to get and relatively inexpensive. You must have an employment contract or letter of intent from a US firm and be able to prove that you have the necessary skill set for the position described to get a TN Visa, but these are typically straight forward conditions with few pitfalls.

This is not comprehensive list of all visas that exist. There are special visas the one can obtain, but these are by far the most common.

There are two common paths to permanently working in the us:

  • Going to school in the US: If you can get into a US Educational institution they can get you the F1 visa, which will entitle you to an OPT visa which can easily lead to an H1-B visa. After that, as long as you stay employed, getting a Green Card and Citizenship can be a possibility.
  • Working for a multinational company with an office in the US: Another pretty common route is to get employed by a multinational company and then get transferred to the US. This is much less straight forward and is completely dependent on your employer. Another pit fall is that the company may bring you in on a L1 or J1 visa, which can make your path to permanent residency much harder. If you are in this situation, definitely push for an H1-B visa and even offer to pay for the visa cost differences if that is an option.

There are a few other options (Green Card lottery, Marriage, or O1 Visa), but they are less universal.

Now, onto why US companies are hesitant on hiring internationals for those outside of the US: If a company did hire someone in a foreign country they would:

  • First: Need to interview you while you are abroad. Most companies want you to visit on site before making an offer. The cost of international travel is high and if you are not a citizen of a developed nation, just getting a tourist visa for the on site interview takes time and is not a certain process.
  • Second: If the offer is happening before April of the year, the company will need to wait until April to apply for your H1-B visa and then wait until October for you to actually start your job in the US. If the offer is happening between April and October the company will need to hope there are still H1-B visas left. If there aren’t, you are out of luck. If there are, than you still need to wait till October before you can start your job. Moreover, even with an offer getting the H1-B is still not a sure thing.

As you can see: Any firm with a time sensitive need to hire (most firms) will not be willing to take on the costs and risk of interviewing and hiring a candidate with out current US work authorization. Unless you are in a field that is so specialized that the firm cannot find a candidate in the US that can fill the role, it is highly unlikely any US firm will interview candidates outside the US.

We hope the above guidance helps.  Please not we are recruiters and not immigration attorney’s, none of the above should be construed as advice, but rather a description of our experience with regards to the VISA process and working with US firms. It is advisable that you consult an immigration attorney before making plans to work in the US.  If you do wish to speak to such attorney please reach out to us and as we work with a select few that we recommend highly.