Hiring a Foreign National for your Non-Profit: A World of Possibilities

At first glance, the U.S. immigration system may seem too incomprehensible to an overworked non-profit executive or human resources professional to justify even considering the hiring of a foreign national for a position within his or her organization.  As with any other area of law, though, with the right legal advice, hiring a foreign national does not have to be daunting.  In fact, many non-profits can benefit from more favorable rules under the immigration regulations than those that apply to for-profit entities.

Here is a brief summary of some of the visa categories commonly utilized by non-profits to hire foreign nationals.

H-1B Visa for Professionals:  The H-1B visa can be used to hire professionals ranging from Program Managers to Web Programmers and any position in between that requires the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The visa is valid for an initial three-year period, and is renewable for an additional three-years, for a total of six years.  The H-1B is frequently used to hire recent graduates of U.S. colleges and universities who studied in the U.S. pursuant to a student visa.

Many non-profits benefit greatly in the H-1B context, because certain non-profit organizations are not subject to the annual numerical cap that renders H-1B visas hard-to-obtain in the private sector.  Similarly, those same non-profits enjoy government filing fee reductions (i.e., a waiver of $750 to $1500 in fees, depending on the size of the organization.)  The organizations that can benefit from these perks include institutions of higher education, non-profit entities related to or affiliated with institutions of higher education, non-profit research organizations, and governmental research organizations.

My non-profit clients have used the H-1B visa to hire, among other occupations, teachers, composers, program directors, exhibits preparators, database programmers, and scientific researchers.  So long as a bachelor’s degree is required for the position, the possibilities are endless.

TN Visa for Professionals from Mexico and Canada:  The TN visa is a visa category limited to professionals from Mexico and Canada.  It is available for an initial period of three-years and is renewable indefinitely.

Although there are no special rules or exemptions for non-profits under the TN visa category, it is a very useful category for non-profits, because there are no numerical caps, meaning that the visa is available year-round.  It also carries much lower government filing fees than the H-1B visa, which can make a big difference to a non-profit entity with a limited budget.

TN visas are limited to certain enumerated professionals set forth in the NAFTA.  These professionals include, among others, social workers, medical and allied professionals, vocational counselors, university-level professors, management consultants, scientists, research assistants, and scientific technicians and technologists.

R-1 Visa for Religious Workers:  The R-1 visa program allows religious organizations to hire foreign-national ministers, as well as individuals working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation, such as cantors, liturgical workers, religious broadcasters, and members of the religious vocation, such as nuns and monks.  The initial visa validity period is three years (with a total period of stay of five years.)

Other visa categories of interest:  The O Visa can be used to hire individuals with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, or educational arenas.  The P-3 Visa can be used to bring artists and entertainers to the U.S. to perform, teach, or coach a culturally-unique program.  The L Visa can be utilized by trans-national non-profits to transfer executives and managers to the U.S. from abroad.  The I Visa is used by representatives of the foreign press.

– Ginger Jacobs

This week’s post is written by Ginger Jacobs, a San Diego-based immigration attorney.  You can reach Ginger at (619) 230-0012 or ginger@jsoslaw.com.