Should I consider sponsoring foreign workers and offering them green cards?

If you working an academic or high-tech environment, it maybe necessary or desirable to recruit from abroad. Post doctorate research fellows are high in demand and low in supply for specific high-skill jobs. In order to obtain a visa or green card for a foreign worker, you must first prove you were unable to find a qualified American worker. Visas are also limited, so be sure you can't fill a position by other means.

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The visa system in the United States comes in two basic types: (1) nonimmigrants and (2) immigrants. To keep these concepts in perspective, simply think of it this way: Immigrants are foreign nationals who obtain the legal right to live and work in the United States without restriction. Nonimmigrants, in comparison, are only here temporarily and will eventually have to return to their original countries.

''Lawful permanent residents'' (LPRs) are people who have obtained a ''green card'' and are allowed to work here without restriction. After LPRs have lived in the United States for five years (three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen), they may choose to apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens. (Once they become citizens, they will have earned the right to vote and serve on jury duty.) Of course, not all LPRs are citizens; citizenship is an option for LPRs, and it's an extra step in the immigration process.

A ''green card'' is a slang term for an alien registration card issued to permanent resident aliens. The card includes the alien's photograph and fingerprint. At one time, the identity card was green (today it's rose colored). And you've seen this document referred to in your I-9 form: ''List A: Employment Eligibility and Identity'' requires, among other things, a U.S. passport or Alien Registration Receipt Card (Form I-551) to establish both (1) employment eligibility and (2) identity.

How do employers sponsor aliens who want green cards, and how much does the process cost? First, remember that immigrant visas are limited in number and subject to quota limitations established by Congress. Also, there are two ways to obtain immigrant visas: through (1) family relationships or (2) employment. Although the family relations subtopic goes well beyond the scope of this book, most immigrants come to America to join family members; a much smaller percentage come here to fill jobs where employers have demonstrated an inability to find American workers. Still, employment-based immigration has become a hot topic for U.S. companies in aggressive growth modes, and companies now have to add this concept to their sourcing vocabulary.

There are five categories of immigrant visas, known as ''preferences.'' Whereas research scientists and academicians often qualify under preferences (1)(a), ''Extraordinary Ability,'' or (1)(b), ''Outstanding Professors and Researchers,'' information technology professionals normally qualify under the second or third preference (i.e., ''Advanced Degrees,'' ''Exceptional Ability,'' ''Professionals,'' or ''Skilled Workers''). To qualify for these preference categories, aliens must have a combination of a master's degree or a bachelor's degree plus a certain number of years of progressive experience in their fields. The positions being recruited for must likewise require at least a bachelor's degree. The specifics of the preference categories should be discussed with qualified immigration counsel.

In addition, the second and third preferences typically require that the employer obtain a ''Labor Certification'' from the Department of Labor (DOL) confirming that hiring the alien will not adversely affect similarly situated U.S. workers. Therefore, employers must demonstrate sufficient recruitment to show that the U.S. labor market was adequately tested before they can obtain permanent residency for an immigrant. This is typically accomplished by running recruitment advertisements in prominent newspapers and, in some cases, on the Internet to document your attempts to hire American workers first.

The second and third preferences also require that you, the sponsoring employer, file a ''Petition for Prospective Immigrant Employee'' form (INS #140). And, whereas aliens who claim extraordinary ability (first preference) may file for a green card on their own behalf, aliens under preferences two and three (again, IT professionals) must be sponsored by employers.

Attorneys' fees for obtaining green cards can range anywhere from $3,500 to $8,000, and the green card approval process ranges anywhere from two to five years. Because there are quotas for workers from certain countries, such as India and China, those candidates take the longest to process.

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