“People dread it.”
That’s the answer Natalie Napolitano, customer relationship manager at VISANOW, provides when asked why employers drag their feet on the H-1B Person in Specialty Occupation visa application process. The process is so laborious that some employers wait until there are only a couple weeks left before April 1 – the deadline to submit applications for H-1B cap season.
“For many HR professionals, immigration is only a subset of the job. People are preoccupied with things like open enrollment and new hires – they can’t just work on immigration all day,” she says. Factor in the elements of an opaque process plus overwhelming information and documentation requirements, and it’s no wonder that immigration falls to the bottom of the to-do list.
But waiting until the last minute has consequences. Before filing an H-1B, you must submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA), which contains details about the job such as pay rate, period of employment and work location. The government takes at least seven days to certify the LCA (and up to 10 days during cap season) – and there’s no rushing it.
Plus, wrangling documents can be difficult, especially if you’re relying on a third party to send you what you need. When you have only a few weeks to work with, a delayed document in March can mean a Request for Evidence notice later on, which drags the process out further, Napolitano says. Not to mention the stress you’ll encounter when scrambling to make sure applications are completed on time without letting any of your other duties slide.
But sometimes procrastination is a fact of life. If you haven’t started the application process yet, here are some things you can do during cap season crunch time.
1. Reach out.
If it’s been a while since you last had a conversation with the foreign national recruits you’re sponsoring, double-check that their information hasn’t changed. Reach out to anyone else responsible for hiring to make sure you know exactly who is being sponsored. If you’re working with an immigration services provider, speak with your customer relationship manager as soon as possible to find out what you’ll need to do to get started and respond to any accelerated timelines. Finally, make sure all of the foreign nationals you’re sponsoring know that the application process has begun, so they can be ready to react quickly when it’s time for them to gather documents.
2. Hop to it!
“Get those cases open as quickly as possible,” Napolitano says. That means taking a deep breath and starting the hard part: Blocking off time, sitting down and putting pen to paper (or, if you’re working on a digital platform, filling out the forms online). “It’s not the end of the world to have waited until early February,” she says. “But this is like finals week. You have to make these tasks the priority and get them done.”
3. Don’t forget the details.
Sometimes, employers with a general grasp of the visa application process aren’t aware of details like filing the LCA or translating documents into English. Your attorney will let you know exactly what needs to be done, but keep in mind that there are often additional steps besides filling out the forms and gathering documents for the application, depending on the specifics of each case. For example: Your attorney might request a certified education evaluation, which verifies the legitimacy of the individual’s foreign degree if it wasn’t obtained inside the United States. This can take extra time, which means you’ll have to be especially conscious to manage your task list.
4. Ask for help.
Sometimes, it’s not realistic to do it all yourself. Ask other members of your team to help fill out the forms or follow up on to-dos. Set aside a few hours for your group, bring some snacks – and you can call it a party.
5. Be honest.
Now that you have a clear understanding of the deadlines – and potential consequences – be very frank with those around you. “Be as vocal as possible about timelines and steps that need to be completed,” Napolitano says. “Constantly remind your colleagues that if they don’t have the necessary tasks completed on time, we can’t guarantee the application will be filed by the deadline. Send an email out. Call a meeting. Do what you have to do to get the message across.”
Also, if you’re having trouble getting a response from the foreign nationals you’re sponsoring, or can’t produce a certain document, always let your attorney know – there could be an alternative document type you can submit instead. And keeping your immigration service provider updated on any delays will help him or her proactively manage your timelines.
Ultimately, the H-1B process is one of the earliest experiences these foreign national employees have with your company – which means it leaves a lasting impression.
“When you’re hiring people, you’re looking for the best and brightest for your company, but candidates are interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. It’s a mutual contract,” Napolitano says.