Is Your Employer Sponsoring Your H-1B Visa This Year?

H-1B visa sponsorship has long been a topic that is front and center, and now it is more of a focus than ever before. Nonetheless, many students whom I have coached found full-time job offers in the U.S. last year. March is the time for employers to submit H-1B visa petitions on your behalf, but not all employers are sponsoring new employees immediately. Some won’t even commit sponsoring the following year, or ever.

It’s not an easy subject for those of you who are getting a real job for the first time. Questions that I often get asked are:

  • How should I talk about H-1B with my employer before accepting a job offer?

  • Can I ask my employer to include H-1B sponsorship in the offer letter?

  • If my employer will not sponsor my H-1B visa and will only employ me under OPT, what should I do next?

There is no doubt that these are tough questions. Hopefully these next 5 points help you put things into perspective:

  1. If you just began your new job within the past year and your employer is sponsoring you – congratulations, you are very lucky. Not all employers sponsor within the first year, and I think it is FAIR. The process is time consuming and very costly. More importantly, the company must commit to keeping you on the job for a minimum of three years! Most of the H-1Bs can be renewed for another three years after the first three, so even if you are already making plans for your next career move, the company is taking on a commitment of six years by sponsoring you. So, it is more than reasonable for an employer to observe your performance for a year before making the decision. Think about what you would do when you buy a new car – you take it out for a test drive first before purchasing. It is a simple cost-benefit analysis and this situation is no different.

  2. If you are in the process of accepting a job offer, it is important to discuss this issue with your employer. Do they sponsor H1-B at all? Are they e-Verified (this especially matters if you are a STEM major)? If they sponsor, what is the timeline? I find that the majority of American employers are usually transparent about this kind of high-level information. Most companies will tell you that sponsorship will be evaluated based on performance, and timing is at the discretion of the company. If that is the case, there is not much you can do other than work hard to prove yourself, and revisit the conversation in 3-4 months before the petition opening period for the following year, or 6-8 months after which you surely would have had a performance evaluation.

  3. As far as asking for sponsorship to be written into an offer letter, you can certainly try, but it is extremely unlikely that a company would; even if they did, it does not mean anything if you lose the job later on. #Monica Ren, an immigration attorney based in Manhattan, explained that even if your employer agrees to put H1-B sponsorship into the offer letter, they can always terminate the employer-employee relationship, effectively rendering the offer letter meaningless. After all, offer letter is not a contract, it is simply a summary of the terms of employment.

  4. If my employer does NOT want to sponsor me, even if they can, what should I do? One student who recently started a job with an investment management company told me that the HR department said that the company “doesn’t see a need to sponsor when you still have 2+ years left on your OPT.” This can be really frustrating, but it is your choice how you proceed – if your goal is to develop a career in the U.S., start looking for a new job ASAP. The idea is that hopefully you can give your new company at least 6-8 months for them to sponsor your visa for the following year while you still have 2 years left on your OPT.

  5. In terms of figuring out who to talk to about H-1B sponsorship, each company is different so the decision makers may vary. Most people tend to think HR is the place to go for this information. Having worked in banking and consulting, what I learned is that HR is the arm of the company that handles the detailed processes, but your specific business unit managers are usually the real decision makers. After all, the fee for the petition and headcount will come out the business unit budget so HR cannot start this process for you unless your business unit gives them the green light.

A text message from one of my clients

If you are under STEM OPT, you will have a maximum of three opportunities to enter the lucky draw for H-1B visa. Timing is pivotal and you must plan and take action to increase your odds in this process. Communication is the key that ultimately aligns your needs with your employer’s making it a win-win situation.

Heather Lu-Lasky, CFA is the Founder and CEO of ChampAmerica, a career and workforce development consulting firm based in New York City. @Heather Lu-Lasky