Dear Sophie: How do we handle being fully remote when it comes to immigration?

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.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

Our fully remote startup is looking to fill several new engineering positions. 

We have not gone through the immigration process with employees before, and a couple of prospective hires will require visas. One is currently on an H-1B and living in Dallas. Another candidate is currently living in Germany and wants to work from Miami.

What should we consider before hiring these engineers? How do we handle being fully remote when it comes to immigration?

— Distributed and Determined

Dear Distributed,

The pandemic rapidly changed the way we work. Many companies like yours now have a distributed or a hybrid workforce.

I recently had a great talk with Hannah Genton, a founding partner of CGL, a corporate law firm that has had a fully distributed team since it launched in 2017. We chatted about her work with startup clients and she described several issues that startups should keep in mind, particularly if they have distributed or hybrid teams.

Protecting your company

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)

Genton says consulting a corporate attorney before extending a job offer, taking on equity or debt, or signing major contracts will help you make informed decisions and protect your company from penalties and lawsuits. Corporate, employment and privacy laws differ in each state, so you should know what you can and can’t do. A corporate attorney can also guide you in creating a distributed work policy for your company.

I also recommend consulting an immigration attorney before moving forward with the two prospective new hires you mentioned. An immigration attorney can guide you through the H-1B transfer process, next steps to retain that person after the H-1B visa is set to expire and assess the most promising visa options available at the time.

I list some of the most common work visas that startups use to sponsor talent in this TechCrunch article, but an attorney can also assist you in devising a solid immigration strategy based on your company’s goals and timing.

Now, let’s dive into your other questions.

What should I know about H-1B transfers?

You should know that the maximum stay allowed under an H-1B is six years — unless the employer or the H-1B visa holder has already started the green card process. Given that, you should find out: