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Everything You Need to Know About Hiring Foreign Nationals

Updated Nov 02, 2023

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A company’s biggest asset is its employees, and the people you hire can significantly affect your organization. When many businesses added “remote workplace” to their list of employee benefits in recent years, they realized the advantage of expanding their pools for top talent. Hiring workers from all around the world is an excellent way for small businesses to find highly skilled employees and expand into a global market. If you want to grow your business with foreign employees, you will need to follow some specific processes before your recruiting strategy can hop the pond.

Who is considered a foreign national?

A foreign national is an individual who is not a citizen (which refers to their legal status) or national (which refers to their place of birth) of a specific country. In terms of employment in the United States, a foreign national (also known as a foreign employee or foreign worker) is an employee or independent contractor who works in the United States but is not a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Did You Know?Did you know

Even lawful permanent residents (LPRs) with green cards are considered foreign nationals until they are naturalized.

Pros of hiring foreign national employees

Hiring a foreign national employee can greatly benefit your business as well as the life of the employee. Every business should strive for a diverse workplace, and hiring a foreign employee is one way to get there.

Here are some of the top advantages of hiring foreign nationals:

Access to skilled labor

Sometimes, the best employee for a specific job cannot be found in your town, state or country. Widening your recruitment strategy to include a global talent pool can increase your ability to find highly skilled employees that you would not have had access to otherwise.

Labor cost savings

Hiring foreign workers could save you money, depending on the role you are hiring for and the pay range for the position. The U.S. has a desirable job market for many foreigners, giving employers the flexibility to pay lower wages.

“The demand, with the high supply of workers, allows the employer to hire employees [who] are willing to work for lower [pay],” Marianne Curtis, employment litigation attorney and partner at Berger Singerman, told us. “In some cases, this may be the foreign worker who is looking for an opportunity to break into the United States’ employment market.”

Although a lower cost of hiring is a potential benefit, keep in mind that you cannot simply hire a foreign worker just because you want cheap labor. You must demonstrate a lack of other options to get the work certificate necessary to hire a foreign worker.

“The certification requires the employer to confirm that there are insufficient U.S. workers to perform the work at wages that meet or exceed the prevailing wage for the area of employment,” Curtis said.

Improved company diversity

Because of their culture, work experience and personal life experience, foreign national employees bring unique skill sets and perspectives to the U.S. workplace. You might want or need this variety to add to the diversity of your company culture.

FYIDid you know

If you’re curious to know how your company’s diversity stacks up against some of the largest U.S. businesses’, check out our recent study on diversity, equity and inclusion in the United States.

Expansion opportunities and connections

Hiring a worker from another country can be especially beneficial if you intend to expand your market reach to their region. The employee can give you firsthand knowledge of what their country is like, educate you on international business etiquette and provide insights on current market gaps. They may even have business connections that prove useful in your expansion.

Intrinsic value to employers

Curtis said hiring a foreign worker can also be beneficial for a small business owner because they’re giving a valuable opportunity to someone seeking employment in the U.S. This can be a rewarding and personally enriching experience for employers.

Cons of hiring foreign national employees

Although hiring foreign workers can benefit you and your company, there are a few potential drawbacks. You can mitigate most of these with the proper preparation.

Here are some of the biggest potential disadvantages of hiring foreign nationals:

Language barriers

If you and your foreign employees speak different languages, you will need to have a detailed plan to help them do their jobs and take extra measures to overcome the language barrier. For example, you might want to hire bilingual mentors for them. [Read related article: Unspoken Signals: Common Body Language Mistakes to Avoid in the Workplace]

Legal risks

Hiring a foreign national is an intensive process that requires several laws and guidelines to be met. As a result, there are legal risks associated with hiring foreign workers if you aren’t careful. You should speak with an experienced immigration attorney to ensure your recruitment and hiring processes comply with all applicable immigration laws and regulations.

Pushback from local communities

Some communities might push back on businesses hiring foreign workers because they want to retain local jobs for local talent. This is something to keep in mind, especially if you operate in a small community with limited job opportunities.

Misaligned motivation

Curtis said some foreign workers see their employment in the U.S. as an individual steppingstone, which can cause a lack of interest in and dedication to the company’s future and growth.

Time and money

The process of recruiting and hiring a foreign national often requires more time and money upfront than hiring a domestic employee. Applying and waiting for certifications and visas can delay the process even further.

“The process can be cumbersome, so patience, commitment to the ultimate outcome and managing expectations are critical,” Curtis said.

>> Read next: Time-Zone Mania: How to Deal With Geodiversity

How to hire foreign workers

If you are considering hiring a foreign worker, follow these four steps:

1. Acquire certifications.

Apply for certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). To complete this application, you must provide proof that you need a foreign worker, can pay them appropriately and meet the applicable foreign labor certification program criteria.  

2. Recruit and interview candidates.

The hiring process for foreign workers will look slightly different from the typical hiring process for U.S. citizens. Keep this in mind as you post on job boards, review resumes and conduct interviews with candidates. The overall process can also take much longer. The candidate will need to be approved for their visa before you can officially hire them, and completing this paperwork could take a while.

3. Acquire work visas.

Your foreign national employee will need a work visa from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before they can legally work in the United States. You can verify their work authorization with Form I-9 if they already have one. If they don’t, you may have to sponsor their work visa, which will take a lot more time and effort.

TipBottom line

You need to plan far in advance when hiring a foreign worker, because sponsorship of a work visa generally takes three to six months to get approved.

4. Comply with tax laws.

Address all tax laws that apply to your company and the foreign worker. For example, foreign workers in the U.S. will need a Social Security number and be subject to payroll taxes.

FAQ about hiring foreign national workers

What certification do foreign workers need?

Foreign nationals must acquire specific certifications before they can work in the U.S. These foreign labor programs are meant to ensure that the presence of the foreign worker will not adversely affect job opportunities or wages for U.S. workers.

Your foreign national worker will need to acquire one of the following certifications from the DOL, depending on the occupational requirements of the job:

How much does it cost to sponsor a foreign worker?

The filing fee to sponsor an H-1B employee typically ranges from $3,000 to $4,000. If you have more than 50 employees, with at least half of them being foreign nationals, it will cost you an additional $4,000. Employers will also be responsible for additional attorneys’ fees, which can be another couple thousand dollars.  

How many foreign workers can a company hire?

There is no set maximum number of foreign workers an organization can hire; however, that doesn’t mean you won’t face any limitations. For example, some visas, such as the H-1B visa, have restrictions on how many can be issued throughout the year. Business owners seeking to hire foreign nationals will need to pay close attention to current immigration processes.

“For example, with the Trump administration, there were restrictions on work visas for the stated purpose to improve job prospects for Americans,” Curtis said. “Ultimately, the restrictions on foreign workers will depend on the current immigration process and economic effects on the individual company to navigate the process.”

How are foreign employees paid?

If your foreign employee is working for you in the United States, you can pay them just the same as you would a U.S. citizen. However, if your foreign employee is doing the job from abroad, you need to pay them according to the payroll and employment guidelines in their country. Pay attention to factors like tax rates, payroll deductions, deadlines, employee benefits and time-off regulations. Also, make sure you are correctly classifying them as employees versus contractors. If you’re paying workers overseas, you can either set up and incorporate a legal entity or use a global employment organization service.

What kinds of jobs qualify for foreign labor certification?

Numerous temporary and permanent jobs qualify for foreign labor certification by the DOL. These can include jobs such as professional specialty work (e.g., architects, engineers, therapists and healthcare workers), temporary or seasonal agricultural labor (e.g., farm workers), and temporary or seasonal nonagricultural labor (e.g., housekeepers and cooks).

Can you hire someone without a work visa?

Sort of. Yes, you can technically hire a foreign national who doesn’t have a work visa. However, they can’t start working for you until they have one. If the foreign worker does not have a work visa at the time of hire, you will have to sponsor them or help them get a work visa before their official start date.

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Skye Schooley
Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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