Here’s another edition from “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that empowers people around the world to push beyond limits and chase their dreams,” says Sophie Acorn, a Silicon Valley immigration lawyer. “Whether you’re in people management, 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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I am a co-founder of a very early stage startup. My co-founder and I are considering hiring a third co-founder, who was recently fired. She is currently in the United States on an H-1B with a grace period expiring soon.
What are the fastest, least risky immigration options we should consider? What’s up with potential USCIS filing fee increases?
– Careful co-founder
It’s great to hear you’re growing your team and supporting your future co-founder.
Now is the right time to hire international talent as filing fees for most work visas and green cards are likely to increase later this year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), released a proposal that would, among other things, significantly increase the cost for many non-immigrant visas and slow down the premium processing time from 15 calendar days to 15 business days (about three calendar weeks).
For example, the filing fee for an H-1B application (new, renewal, or transfer) will be increased from $460 to $780. DHS is accepting public comment on this proposal until March 6, 2023, and I urge you and other employers, especially starting startups, to think along about these changes.
Buy time first
Before I address your first question, I strongly recommend that you speak to an immigration attorney as soon as possible about the situation and timing of your future hire. An immigration lawyer can suggest strategies tailored to your startup and aimed at mitigating risk. Calculating the grace period after a layoff can be tricky because there are many factors involved, and you want to make sure that your co-founder maintains valid U.S. status and has proper clearance for all required international travel.
Since your prospective co-founder’s 60-day grace period is about to expire, she can quickly get extra time by applying online for a status change from H-1B to B-1 business visitor status, which will allow her to apply for residency in the U.S. for another six months. It also gives you time to prepare an H-1B transfer application and attempt to change her status back to an H-1B or other work visa.
Remember that the B-1 status is not a work visa and does not grant a work permit, meaning she is not authorized to be employed by your startup. However, she can do a few things that immigration officers don’t consider work, such as:
- Attending business meetings or consultations;
- Attend a convention or conference;
- Negotiate contracts.