Dear Sophie: How can I improve our startup’s international recruiting?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie:

We’ve been having a tough time filling vacant engineering and other positions at our company and are planning to make a more concerted effort to recruit internationally.

Do you have suggestions for attracting workers from abroad?

— Proactive in Pacifica

Dear Proactive,

Yes, I have many suggestions on what you can do to support international talent interested in moving to the United States. Immigration is a great benefit for attracting the best and the brightest team members from around the globe. And providing immigration security through visa practices and green card programs supports retaining these valued individuals. Consider sponsoring international students and other qualified candidates in the upcoming H-1B lottery in March.

As it now stands, the H-1B lottery will be random this year, not pay-to-play. We anticipate the electronic lottery process will follow these dates:

  • March 9 at 9 a.m. PST: H-1B registration process opens.
  • March 25 at 9 a.m. PDT: H-1B registration process closes.
  • March 31: You’ll know if your H-1B beneficiaries were selected electronically in this initial round of the lottery.
  • April 1: First date to file H-1Bs selected in the lottery to request a 10/1/2021 or later start date.
  • June 30: Last anticipated day to complete filing of selected H-1B petitions in this initial round of the lottery.
  • After June 30: Possibility of a second lottery for registrations submitted in March.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Through the H-1B and other proactive immigration-support measures you can take, your international team members will enjoy a greater sense of immigration security. This allows them to focus on their job rather than worrying about their immigration status. Here are my recommendations for drawing international talent from abroad and fostering productivity and loyalty.

Establish your company’s immigration policy

I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney who can help your company develop an immigration policy based on your company’s core values, recruiting and immigration budget, and growth plan. Think of immigration as a benefit and a way to differentiate your company from others when recruiting top talent. Providing immigration benefits and immigration security goes a long way toward building team member loyalty and longevity.

For some companies, the best policy may be to have no policy, but it’s important to be deliberate about it and how that will affect your ability to make decisions and budget. For other companies, they implement a limited immigration policy to, for example, hire 40 engineers as soon as possible. Even with a decentralized workforce, a new recruit may be happy to move from Ukraine to Idaho even if your company is not based there.

Also, keep in mind that obtaining a green card through marriage is oftentimes less expensive and faster than a company-sponsored green card, so your company could consider covering the costs of a marriage-based green card.

Immigration sponsorship and covering relocation costs may often be good negotiating tools to onboard talent. A company could offer to sponsor prospective international employees for a green card when they’re hired (or even before) or offer to cover immigration costs for the candidate’s spouse and children. Generous immigration support may be offered to reward outstanding performance as well.

Foster a culture that values diversity

Create and foster a company culture that values diversity and inclusion. Companies that embrace these values report higher engagement, improved creativity, lower turnover and increased profits. Moreover, this will reinforce your commitment to your international hires that benefit from immigration sponsorship.

A diverse workforce means more ideas get thrown into the mix, which makes products and services better, helps you understand target markets, and assists in devising a plan forward when challenges or opportunities occur.

Companies can adopt practices that build diverse work teams and engage in diversity, inclusion and cultural training to help create that culture. Moreover, companies can involve new immigrant hires by directly asking for their input and leveraging their cross-cultural experience. They may offer a totally different way to look at things. Proactively welcoming conversations benefits the team and the organization’s overall goals. Creating a company culture where all team members feel comfortable speaking up as well as one that supports work-life balance are also important.

Create programs that support international talent

Along with covering relocation costs, employers can assist international talent with settling into their new life in the United States. Employers can arrange flights, transportation from the airport and temporary housing. They can provide a relocation specialist to assist families with:

  • Finding a car, long-term housing, school or childcare.
  • Setting up bank, internet and cell phone accounts.
  • Getting legal documents, such as a driver’s license or social security number.
  • Providing a tour of places of interest for daily needs, such as grocery and drug stores, gas or charging stations, and hospitals —and explaining how each works.

Don’t underestimate how valuable an intro to how things work here is. A relocation professional once told me about a client who couldn’t gas up his car because he was prompted for his zip code before he could pump gas — and he had no idea what a zip code was.

Your company can also help international team members acclimate by creating integration and assistance programs, such as help navigating the workplace, identifying company and community resources, and offering information about American holidays and traditions, English language classes and networking opportunities.

In addition, consider offering spouses support, such as English language classes, cultural adaptation workshops, and social and professional networking opportunities. Oftentimes local immigrant organizations can assist with many of these offerings.

Moreover, proactive and continued immigration support will give international team members peace of mind about their current and future immigration status. Proactively remind individuals of an upcoming visa renewal or other deadlines, offer legal support and be open to creative immigration strategies. Once the pandemic-related travel restrictions end, your company should also consider covering costs for international team members to fly to their home country when they need to go back to renew a visa.

Other things you can consider will foster motivation and loyalty among your entire team, such as continuing education and training programs, a clear evaluation process whether it’s formal or not, and opportunities for advancement. If you’re a multinational company, consider global rotation programs — post-pandemic, of course.

Upcoming H-1B lottery season

As the H-1B lottery season approaches, your company should quickly identify positions and individuals both within your company, such as international students, as well as new prospective employees who qualify for an H-1B visa. As mentioned above, this year, the H-1B registration process begins on March 9 and runs through March 25, which is a shorter period than in 2020.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on February 4 that this year’s lottery will continue to be a random draw. It expects to notify all candidates drawn in the lottery by March 31. USCIS is evaluating the wage-based lottery that was finalized in the final days of the Trump administration and was originally planned for implementation this year.

Many thanks to you and your company for giving international talent the opportunity to follow their dreams to build a career and a life in the United States.

Best regards,


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!