Hiring an International Employee? Here’s Why You Need an Immigration Lawyer

It's too easy to make mistakes otherwise

A lawyer is a necessity if you're hiring an international employee. Getty Images
Headshot of Sasha Martens

Major advertising agencies lose talent by being poorly served by their immigration lawyers. The demand for skilled and uniquely talented workers has never been higher, yet immigration lawyers hired to help agencies struggling to find and retain the best talent are often part of the problem. Many times the unforced error in talent loss is the use of immigration law firms that bungle the process. With the U.S. government taking a much more demanding approach on visa applications, a skilled immigration lawyer has never been more valuable.

Last year, a candidate I was working with was offered a job by a major New York firm only to be told three months after accepting the job—and turning down another offer—that the job offer had been rescinded. The reason? The immigration firm the agency worked with had told them “he wouldn’t qualify for an O-1 visa,” which requires an applicant demonstrate extraordinary achievement and national or international recognition for those achievements.

In fact, the rejected candidate was a copywriter with six award-winning years’ experience from South America. He had been a winner in major international festivals and had recently won the Cannes Young Lions competition, beating competitors from around the world. He won gold in South America’s biggest festival El Ojo. He was widely recognized as one of the top talents in his country and had numerous letters from leading executives around the world that attested to his unique talent. Still the immigration lawyer told the agency he wouldn’t qualify for the visa.

This is just one example of many to illustrate an epidemic. For the sake of both job candidates and hiring firms, it is imperative that talent management and human resources push their organizations to find better service. In my experience, boutique law firms provide that superior experience, but even the larger firms can be vetted properly.

Many times the unforced error in talent loss is the use of immigration law firms that bungle the process.

There are a few common traits in good immigration lawyers. First, they are very responsive to your questions and your visa candidate’s questions. They give clear timelines and suggest steps that can be taken to make the process as efficient as possible. They try to find solutions versus obstacles. In the end, you need to feel that they are on your side and working for the company’s best interest.

Be wary of the firms that remind you of a dishonest auto mechanic. You shouldn’t be listening to a list of how hard the situation is. They should instead be telling you what the steps are, how it’s going to be done and why they are the best firm to do it.

Ask the firm how much of the work is prepared by the lawyers themselves versus paralegals. You want knowledgeable, detailed-oriented professionals, not a one-size-fits-all approach. Then set the fee structure. Negotiate a flat fee for services. That way, there is no incentive for lawyers to bill for extra hours or to decline a case because they have already been paid a full retainer. Make it clear you want every level of hire to be treated the same, from senior executive to rising star.

You’ll want to also consider getting a second opinion. Second opinions can potentially validate your current firm and give you greater insight into the process or logic behind why one should or should not move forward with a potential candidate.

From candidates here on work visas, I often hear complaints about all the mistakes law firms make that put their employment status in jeopardy. They range from errors made on application forms to calls made to current employers to verify employment. From HR departments, I hear complaints that the law firms are incredibly slow. When it comes to an O-1 visa, they put great effort into telling their clients that it is really hard, will require a lot of paperwork or it can take months. The truth of the matter is that immigration firms don’t like to work on O-1 visas because they are not simple cut and paste applications like an H1-B or an E3. They have to prove qualification.

Large law firms, while reputable, often come with a lot of issues. First and foremost is lack of timeliness. Sometimes there is needless delay to charge more money. Other times it is simply because their lawyers are handling too many cases to provide the detailed attention needed.

Nobody likes to deal with a visa and the potential headaches involved. HR and hiring managers understandably want to avoid them. But the global battle for the best talent is real. Don’t compromise your business because someone is too lazy or too greedy to provide you with the service you need to get talent into the country.

There is much a company can do to improve the hiring of international talent. Educate yourself and your team. The more HR teams and hiring managers understand the general framework for what is needed for a visa, the better they will be at identifying and pushing back against bad advice from an immigration firm. Legal council is often selected by the operations and finance team, who are removed from the hiring process, so creating an opportunity for feedback is important. They should be empowered to find a second option if they feel they are being poorly served by their legal team.

In the current climate the visa process is more challenging, which should be an even greater incentive to get the best possible legal service you can find. If you don’t demand the service you need from immigration attorneys and simultaneously create an internal environment to motivate and secure the right service, you will lose out on the best talent for the worst of reasons: mediocrity, bureaucracy or apathy.


@SashaTheMensch Sasha Martens is the founder of Sasha the Mensch.
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