Here’s another edition of “Ask 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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I’ve been on an H-1B visa with my current employer for about two years, and I want to find a more challenging position with another company.
At a time when more companies are doing layoffs, I feel like I’m at a disadvantage in the job market compared to a few years ago.
Can you please guide me on changing jobs, transferring an H-1B and getting support for my green card?
— Hopeful H-1B Holder
Congrats on taking the first step toward reaching your goals. Appreciate you reaching out to me for guidance — I’ve got you!
The good news is that many companies are hiring tech talent. Layoffs in the tech sector — mostly by the Big Tech firms — have grabbed the news headlines since last year. But I’ve found that many early-stage startups successfully conserved cash and are now hiring.
Since you already went through the lottery process, you won’t need to go through it again for an H-1B transfer. Phew!
In addition, other sectors such as healthcare, professional and business services, government, and hospitality have shown strong job growth and are hiring tech talent. What’s more, federal legislation, such as the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, will lead to increased job creation over the next few years.
Become familiar with your ideal visa and green card route, particularly when pursuing a position at an early-stage startup. Often early-stage founders and ops leaders have limited immigration experience, so knowing how to explain the process is invaluable to pitching yourself.
Tips for managing your H-1B transfer
You’ve already surpassed one of the biggest challenges most people face — being selected for an H-1B visa through the annual H-1B lottery. In the past few years, the chances of being selected in the lottery have decreased significantly. Since you already went through the lottery process, you won’t need to go through it again for an H-1B transfer. Phew!
Your job now is to figure out what it is you want to do. What’s your dream job? Can it qualify as a specialty occupation for H-1B purposes? If it’s not the next natural step on a typical career progression ladder, can you identify the next role that would be a great steppingstone?
Once you’ve identified your next step, then you need to find an employer willing to transfer your H-1B. Expand your network and tap into your existing network for job leads. Ask prospective employers early on in the job interview process whether they’re willing to provide immigration support.
If they aren’t — or if they hesitate — move on. International talent remains highly sought after by employers. According to the 2023 Immigration Trends Report published by Envoy Global, 87% of employers are recruiting and hiring foreign national employees in the U.S.
For an H-1B, the employer is responsible for paying the costs. You can let prospective employers know that an H-1B specialty occupation visa transfer for a startup can typically be accomplished in a month or so, and usually for less than $10,000, including legal and filing fees, which is much less than the cost of a recruiter. The process can take as little as four to six weeks from offer to start date.
It’s definitely recommended that all companies work with an experienced immigration attorney to put together your work visa petition. Startups or companies that have never before sponsored an employer or prospective employee for an H-1B must first get their Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) verified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification, which typically takes about a week.