The US — land of the free and home of the brave — is a vast, diverse country with a wealth of opportunities, making it a popular choice for international workers looking to relocate. As such, there’s a vast global talent pool out there ready for US businesses to tap into.

However, immigration procedures and employing foreign workers in the US are complex areas of the law, with regulations changing regularly.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key immigration and employment requirements you need to know before bringing on overseas workers…

Ticking the right boxes

 An immigration visa is required to enter the US as an immigrant. This can take the form of a family-based visa or an employment visa.

To be eligible for an immigration visa, individuals must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • They must be a foreign citizen from a country with a low immigration rate to the US, or,
  • They must have qualifying work experience or have graduated from high school or its equivalent.

However, the Diversity Immigration Visa (DV) program limits the number of immigration visas available each year. This program is also known as the “green card lottery” because it makes 50,000 green cards available annually in a lottery.

A green card is needed for permanent immigration to the US. This card gives individuals official, permanent status and is necessary if they wish to become a naturalized US citizen.

Understanding employment options

During the US fiscal year, approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are available. To work in the US on a temporary or permanent basis, individuals must come under one of the following five categories:

  1. Priority workers or persons with extraordinary ability
  2. Professionals holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability
  3. Skilled workers, professionals, or unskilled workers
  4. Certain special immigrants
  5. Immigrant investors

Temporary employment-based residence can be granted to workers of various occupations and skill levels. However, once the worker’s status expires or their employment is terminated, they must leave the US.

The employment-based visas are issued on a first-come, first-served basis until the yearly limit for each category is reached. The time taken to process each application is handled on a case-by-case basis, as several extraneous factors (such as a poorly filled in form) can affect the application’s administration.

During the 2019 fiscal year, more than 139,000 employment-based green cards were issued by the US Government to foreign workers. However, the 140,000 cap is now under review by Biden’s government. A proposal has been put forward that would allow the use of unused visa slots from previous years. This reform would also enable spouses and children of employment-based visa holders to receive green cards without counting them against the yearly limit, helping to clear the backlog of applicants.

So — how else is Biden looking to reform America’s immigration policies?

Overhauling obstructive policies

During Trump’s administration, “merit-based” immigration wasn’t accepted. However, Biden has sought to reverse these restrictions to boost refugee admissions, preserve deportations and avoid enforcement of the ‘public charge’ rule that denies green cards to immigrants using public benefits.

An executive order has also been issued for the safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers at the US borders. Biden has also ended several of Trump’s other policies, such as the “Muslim ban” and the practice of child separation across borders.

Travel restrictions to and from several countries that, under Trump’s administration, purportedly didn’t meet the national security standards have also been eradicated. These include Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Yemen. In addition, a Trump-era travel ban on foreign guest workers was allowed to expire on March 31, 2021.

These policy changes aim to give more people the opportunity to live and work in the country freely — and, in turn, provide renewed opportunities for US businesses to cast their net wider and take advantage of international talent pools.

Reviewing the H-1B visa

The H-1B visa forms one of the categories under which skilled foreign workers can live and work in the US. The primary fields for H-1B visas are mathematics, AI, science, engineering, IT, and other similar vocations. The H-1B visa accounted for 22% of all temporary permits for employment issued in 2019.

As well as reviewing policies that led to increased denial rates of the H-1B visa, Biden has extended the current lottery-based application system that was due to come to an end on March 15, 2021. The extension will facilitate US companies looking to sponsor H-1B visas instead of seeing a 30% cost increase for employers.

An additional program — the H-4 EAD visa — will grant spouses of H-1B visa holders the right to work in the US. This initiative was introduced to help companies retain H-1B workers who were previously at risk of leaving the US as their spouses couldn’t work in the country lawfully. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate this program in 2019. However, the proposal was withdrawn by the Biden administration in January 2021, giving companies looking to leverage the H-4 EAD scheme a renewed sense of security.

However, the cap on the number of H-1B visas issued each year remains at 65,000. Looking forward, an increase of this limit would better align with the US’s growing demand for international skills and talent.

If you’re looking to take on overseas workers to grow your US business, an international professional employer organization (PEO) can make sure you stay on the right side of the law. Contact the PEO Worldwide team today to learn more about our international employment services!