To many foreign professionals, a company’s policy about assisting employees in the green card process is a more important consideration than compensation, benefits or even the specific work assignment. Accordingly, a company-specific immigration policy should be given the same attention and importance as any other employee benefit.
A superstar software engineer from India is in an interview with a potential employer. The interview is proceeding famously when the applicant asks the recruiter to explain the company’s immigration policy. The recruiter starts stammering and explaining that the company has a number of foreign professionals on staff and the recruiter is sure they are treated very well but cannot explain the company’s rules for green card sponsorship. All of the positive momentum created up to that point comes to a grinding halt and the applicant starts looking at his watch and thinking about his next interview.
To many foreign professionals, a company’s policy about assisting employees in the green card process is a more important consideration than compensation, benefits, or even the specific work assignment. Accordingly, a company-specific immigration policy should be given the same attention and importance as any other employee benefit. Companies who have not considered, and articulated a company-specific immigration policy are at a great disadvantage in recruiting highly talented non-American citizen professionals.
The first issue a company must address is whether it wants to hire foreign professionals in the first place. Having a non-citizen professional is more cumbersome than hiring a U.S. worker since it involves obtaining a proper visa that authorizes the individual to be employed in the United States. Sponsoring an individual for a green card adds additional expense, time, and effort to the employment relationship. At the same time, sponsoring an employee for a green card creates an extremely high level of loyalty and it is a rare occurrence for a foreign professional to leave the sponsoring employer during the green card process which can take anywhere from two to five years.
When I speak to employer groups, I ask people in the audience to write down a number that would reflect the amount of money the company would pay to virtually guarantee that a high-performing IT professional would remain with the company for three to five years. The average amount indicated by the participants generally exceeds the cost involved in sponsoring an employee for permanent resident status. Furthermore, the expenses involved in the process can be shared with the employee and an agreement can be legally entered into whereby the employee agrees to reimburse part of the employer’s expenses should the employee leave prematurely. Sponsoring a high-performing employee for permanent resident status is truly a win-win situation.
In addition to attracting high-performing professionals, having a well articulated company-specific immigration policy will also avoid resentment and confusion that can be caused by the inconsistent treatment of foreign professional employees. The policy will also make it clear that the sponsored individual remains an employee-at-will and the fact that the company has sponsored the individual does not create a contract for employment.
The company-specific immigration policy should address such issues as how soon the company will initiate the green card process after the commencement of employment, how the fees and costs will be allocated between the employer and the employee, and a reimbursement schedule if the employee prematurely terminates employment. A “typical” policy would involve waiting six months before starting the green card process. The employer would pay 50 percent to 100 percent of the cost and expenses involved in the process. The employee would sign an “Employee at Will” statement which would also include a graduated repayment schedule that would decrease over time. In other words, if the employee voluntarily terminated employment within the first six months the employee would reimburse the company for 100 percent of the expenses incurred, up to that point in time, on the green card process. If the employee left after one year, the employee would reimburse the company for 50 percent of its expenses, etc. Our office has a number of templates which reflect different philosophies on all of these issues.
Creating a comprehensive company-specific immigration policy avoids confusion, builds morale, creates long-term employer-employee relationships, and helps the company attract and retain highly-qualified non-citizen professional employees.