How Difficult Is It for a Startup to Hire H1B Visa Workers?

One of the pressing needs for US small businesses or start-up firms is hiring technically skilled workers, that may not be available in the US workforce.  At first glance, the H1B visa non-immigrant visa would seem like an ideal way to bring a foreign worker to the US to fill a specialized position, but there are challenges with this strategy for small firms.

The primary hurdles for a small or start-up company are:

  • Finding and attracting a worker with the right skill set
  • Paying a wage that meets the H1B visa minimums
  • Competing in the annual lottery with much larger firms who can submit multiple applications

While these problems are not insurmountable, it does make hiring an H1B worker more difficult compared to larger tech firms or outsourcing companies.  Proposed legislation that would limit the participation of outsourcing firms might lessen the burden, but a small company should have a proactive strategy and back-up plan just in case their candidate is not selected in the lottery.

Solving the SME and Startup Dilemma

Here are a few strategies for SMEs and start-ups to increase the chances of successfully hiring an H1B visa worker:

Search for candidates with a higher degree:

The annual lottery has a special allotment for Master’s degrees and higher of 20,000 visas, which increases the chances of being selected.  This is also an option for those still in grad school who will earn their degree prior to the job start date, and this has the added advantage of allowing an in-person interview.

Recruit students in US universities preparing to graduate:

Graduates of US universities with a Bachelor’s degree can use the optional practical training program (OPT) to work without a visa for 12-32 months after graduation, depending on their area of study.  Smaller firms could go directly to universities and the relevant department to search for candidates.

Recruit Canadian or Mexican nationals:

Under NAFTA, Canadians and Mexicans can work on a TN visa instead of an H1B, without any annual cap.

Recruit workers from Chile or Singapore:

Foreign nationals from these two countries have a special 6,000 H1B visa allotment in the lottery.

Affiliate your company with a non-profit organization to avoid the annual cap:

Some small firms will find a way to link their business to a non-profit organization, which allows the H1B visa petition to avoid the annual lottery completely as cap-exempt.

Make sure that your firm meets the H1B visa capitalization requirements:

Small firms and startups will have their capitalization reviewed to make sure that they have the financial resources to actually pay the H1B workers salary.

Take a Creative Approach to Improve the Odds:

Smaller firms have to be more creative in their approach to hiring H1B workers, but have the advantage of flexibility and ability to attract workers that may be interested in getting in on the ‘ground floor’ of a new business.  

Competing with larger firms to hire traditional H1B workers (i.e. mid-level IT programmers from India) is simply not realistic, and there are better options to hire qualified candidates.  Changes to the H1B visa program could actually make it easier in the future for small businesses to participate more equally with larger firms, and benefit from the skill sets of foreign workers.

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  • January 30th, 2018
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