Dear Sophie: Does it make sense to sponsor immigrant talent to work remotely?

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,

My startup is in big-time hiring mode. All of our employees are currently working remotely and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future — even after the pandemic ends. We are considering individuals who are living outside of the U.S. for a few of the positions we are looking to fill.

Does it make sense to sponsor them for a visa to work remotely from somewhere in the United States?

— Selective in Silicon Valley

Dear Selective,

Thanks for reaching out — I’m always happy to hear about another fast-growing startup! If some of your leadership team is also abroad, check out the recent announcement about the new International Entrepreneur Parole program for founders.

It can make great business sense to sponsor international talent for a visa even if the position involves working remotely from a location inside the U.S. With the right legal setup, your team can work from home in Silicon Valley, nearby in California, or in another state where the cost of living is not quite as high. We’ve received this question from many employers, and many of our clients are proceeding with sponsoring international talent with visas and green cards for work-from-home positions.

I discussed this and other issues related to recruiting and work trends with Katie Lampert for my podcast. Lampert leads the talent acquisition and infrastructure group at General Catalyst, a VC firm that invests in seed to growth-stage startups in the U.S. and abroad. She advises companies in the General Catalyst portfolio on all things talent-related, including establishing company culture, creating a company’s infrastructure for recruiting and retaining talent, and planning for the future.

“Recruiting is going to be more global, which is exciting,” Lampert said during our discussion. “This will have a really positive effect on cultural diversity in the workforce. Studies show that a more diverse workforce leads to greater financial success.”

In fact, the latest McKinsey & Co. report on diversity, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” found that companies with ethnically and culturally diverse executive teams are 36% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies with less diverse teams. McKinsey has issued three reports on diversity, and with each subsequent report, the business case for ethnic and cultural diversity and gender diversity in corporate leadership has grown stronger.

In addition to boosting profitability, bringing international talent to the United States to join your startup offers a host of other benefits as well.

Avoids complications and fosters inclusion

Allowing employees to work remotely from abroad or even outside of the state in which your startup is based can create significant employment law and tax complications, not to mention posing a challenge with synching with the rest of your team. Investing to bring that individual to the United States to live and work in the same time zone as the rest of the team enables easily scheduled online team meetings, fostering productivity, engagement and inclusion in the process.

Moreover, your startup may decide at some point to do what so many other companies are doing — or are planning to do — namely, take a hybrid approach to work. Many companies are designating a few days a week for the team to come together to engage in person while retaining remote work schedules for the rest of the week. Sponsoring international hires for a visa means no one is excluded or hindered from attending in-person meetings and events — even those that are organized at a moment’s notice.

Sponsoring international talent for a visa such as an H-1B or O-1A even if your startup continues with remote work post-pandemic will reinforce your company’s commitment to the individual benefiting from the immigration sponsorship.

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)

Securing and maintaining talent

It is oftentimes more cost-effective — and quicker — to sponsor an individual for a work visa than to recruit talent from the competitive Silicon Valley talent pool. Visa or green card sponsorship is a strong negotiating tool for onboarding international talent. Moreover, proactive and generous ongoing immigration support can reward outstanding performance.

Companies should also adopt practices that build and support diverse and inclusive work teams and offer resources and opportunities. Take a look at a previous column in which I offer up some practices and programs to support and retain international talent that also inspire and generate loyalty among your entire team.

Whatever you decide to do, Lampert recommends conducting employee surveys to make sure the practices and programs you’ve implemented are having the intended effect.

Finding the right visas

A whole host of work visas exist for tech talent, depending on the prospective job candidate’s background, experience and country of citizenship. Take a look at a previous column in which I discuss the fastest immigration options available.

I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney who can assist you with devising additional strategies and options tailored to your startup’s needs and timeline that will help you secure the best and brightest candidates from around the globe.

Best of luck in your recruiting efforts!


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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!