How to Sponsor H-1Bs: A Guide for Startups
Can your startup sponsor H-1B visas for your employees? The short answer is yes, but there are various factors to consider and…
Can your startup sponsor H-1B visas for your employees? The short answer is yes, but there are various factors to consider and qualifications that must be met. Any experienced startup founder will tell you how important it is to nail your first hires, so picking from a larger talent pool could give your company a competitive edge. The guide below will give you an idea of what this process looks like.
One Way Ventures invests in immigrant-founded startups, and we encourage our founders to support their community by hiring immigrants as well!
What: The H-1B is a non-immigrant work visa that is awarded to people whose expertise in a certain field is required for a position at an American company.
Who can sponsor H-1Bs: Companies (with a FEIN in the U.S., a physical location, and sufficient funding/cash flow) that are (1) hiring for a position considered a “specialty occupation”, (2) that can afford to pay the “prevailing wage” for the position, and (3) can prove an employer-employee relationship.
How hard is this to get: There are only 85,000 given out a year via an annual lottery–20,000 of which are reserved for those with U.S. master’s degrees–the odds of your candidate getting this visa are normally less than 50 percent (But if you hire recent grads on STEM OPT, they will get multiple chances in the lottery — see our article “E-Verify: A Guide For Startup Employers and Employees”).
How long does it last: 3 years initially; the candidate can then extend for an additional 3 years; this is also a path to a green card and the person can remain in the U.S. while his/her green card is processed.
Cost: ~$1,500-$3,000 for filing fees + ~$2,000-$3,000 for lawyer fees
Why should I do this: Exceptional talent is hard to find, and in an early-stage startup, who you hire might be the foundation for your success or failure. This process doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems with the right legal team behind you.
September-December (or sooner):
Figure out who you need to hire and for what role, then talk to a lawyer. Once you know who you want to hire, ask the candidate to start gathering their evidence and necessary documentation.
Now that the government has started using an electronic filing system, you can register your candidates for the lottery online ($10 each). In 2020 (FY 2021) the window was between March 1 and March 20th, and the government notified registrants by March 31st if their candidates were selected in the lottery or not (If they are not, you won’t have to waste money on getting a lawyer to prepare the official petition).
The filing window opens up on April 1st, and if your candidate was selected electronically, you and your lawyer have 90 days to file the official petition.
Once you submit your petition, you will hear back 3–6 months later. Should you choose to file premium processing, you will hear back in about 2 weeks (however this is subject to change and is sometimes unavailable, it also costs about $1,400 extra).
Other things to consider:
If the person you want to hire already has an H-1B from their previous job, the process is much easier. The hire just needs to change their employer by sending a petition to USCIS (this takes around 2 weeks). Once USCIS receives it they can start work for you.
If your hire is on OPT, start the H-1B application process as soon as possible. If they are on STEM OPT, that means they can get multiple chances in the lottery over the 3-year lifespan of that visa.
Don’t jump into this process without consulting a lawyer first, as there may be better-suited options depending on the candidate’s situation and country of origin. The above is a simplified version of this process, and there are many caveats and alternatives a lawyer will point out once you speak with one.
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Are you a startup founder who needs a work visa? Check out The Entrepreneur’s Guide to U.S. Visas
Sources and Additional Readings:
H-1B FAQs for Startups (Legalpad)
H-1B Visas For Temporary Workers (USCIS)
Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice, as obtaining legal work authorization status in the U.S. requires a trained professional to navigate. The above timeline is a gross simplification of this process meant to provide a brief overview.
This information is up to date as of May 2020 and is subject to change based on current U.S. immigration law. If you notice something that is no longer valid, please email us at email@example.com.