Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that empowers people around the world to rise above the limits and pursue their dreams,” said Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder, or looking for a job in Silicon Valley, I’d love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

We are a start-up that – like many other companies – faces a major challenge when it comes to recruiting talent. We have not posted any international vacancies, but we have received some applications from international talent.

This is all new territory for us. What is your advice for international hiring? I also know that the H-1B lottery is fast approaching.

Can you explain a little more about this process?

— Eager to start up at an early stage

Dear enthusiast,

Yes, the H-1B lottery is fast approaching! The period for registering H-1B candidates will open in March; there are a few steps companies should take before then if they have never participated in the H-1B lottery process before. First, make sure you create an account with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which runs the lottery. Given this timeline, your company should determine as soon as possible whether the positions you want to fill and the future international talent you seek are eligible for an H-1B special occupations visa.

Check out my column in BestFitnessBands+ last week to learn more about the lottery process. To get around the H-1B lottery — or if a candidate is not selected in the lottery — your company might consider getting an H-1B waiver for the candidate. Transferring a person’s H-1B to your startup is also an option. To learn more about that process, check out this Dear Sophie column.

A futuristic lens on international hiring

I recently had a fascinating conversation with Jamais Cascio, a futurist and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. Cascio has a wonderful insight that is relevant to your question.

The US population is aging and the birth rate is falling; as such, we will have to look more and more at immigration to keep our economy going. Cascio discusses three mindsets for dealing with radical change in this chaotic world to stay strong as a company and succeed in the future. This advice is very applicable to companies like yours as you make an effort to hire people from abroad.

The three schools of thought that Cashio said would benefit businesses are:

  • Resilience: Being able to withstand a shock to the system without breaking. He said, for example, that companies that have just-in-time delivery models are very brittle and prone to failure compared to companies that have built-in slack in their system. Building in slack often requires additional resources and reduced efficiency and profit, but provides built-in resilience.
  • Improvisation: Stay creative and agile and be ready to embrace change.
  • Empathy: Probably the most critical of the three, meaning we recognize the humanity in others and what we do matters to others now and in the future. (I was thrilled to learn that the role of the heart is and will be critical to business success!)

Embracing this mindset and developing an immigration strategy that provides stability to international talent will be key to attracting and retaining talent and creating a corporate culture that fosters innovation and endurance. Listen to my podcast, “Tips for Businesses to Support Valued People,” where I discuss this in more detail.

A composite image of immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a BestFitnessBands logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (Opens in a new window)

Specific visas to consider

Before we get into visa specifications, please note that I recommend that you consult an experienced immigration attorney, who can help you develop an immigration strategy for future international hires, as well as provide advice on which visas are appropriate. are given the vacancy and potential candidate. Check out a previous Dear Sophie column where I provide an overview of immigration-related issues to focus on if your startup doesn’t already have an HR manager.

O-1A visa

If your potential collaborators don’t make it through the H-1B lottery process I mentioned above, or if you need to get them here sooner than October and you can’t take the risk of not being selected in the H-1B lottery this year, a great option is the O-1A extraordinary ability visa. More and more of our startup clients are choosing to pursue it for key executives and individual employees with niche expertise. While the bar for qualification is much higher for the O-1A than for the H-1B, the process of getting an O-1A is much faster. And the O-1A has no annual cap or lottery process to contend with.

Visa for talent from specific countries

There are specific visas for talent from Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Singapore.

If the applicant is an Australian citizen, that person with an E-3 visa can work in the US in a specialty occupation, much like an H-1B. E-3 visas also require the sponsoring employer to file a benefits claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, as required by H-1B requests. There are up to 10,500 E-3 visas available each year.

Does the applicant have Chilean or Singaporean nationality? If so, the candidate may be eligible for an H-1B1 special occupations visa, which is an H-1B visa that is for citizens of Chile and Singapore. Thanks to special treaties that the US has with those two countries, professionals can be eligible to receive H-1B1 visas on a prompt basis. Each year, 1,400 H-1B1 visas are reserved for Chileans and 5,400 for Singaporeans – and rarely are those visas completely used up.

Professionals from Canada and Mexico can come to the US to work under a TN visa, which originated from trade agreements between Canada, Mexico and the US. TN visas are limited to occupations listed in treaty agreements, but most of these jobs overlap with H-1B specialty occupations.

Good news: Until the end of 2022, consular officers can now waive the requirement for an in-person interview for some individuals seeking a number of non-immigrant (temporary) visas, including H-1Bs and O-1s. For persons applying for a visa in their country or nationality of residence, the interview may be waived if any of the following apply:

  • Previously issued any type of visa.
  • Never denied a visa unless it was overcome or waived.
  • No incapacity.
  • Citizens or nationals of any country participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

Good luck!


Do you have a question for Sophie? Ask here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. Please see our full disclaimer for more information on ‘Dear Sophie’ restrictions. You can contact Sophie directly through Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you want to be a guest, she accepts applications!

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