How Technology Reduces Barriers to Hiring International Workers

By Dave Zielinski May 4, 2022
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man working abroad

​When Kevin Michael Gray was looking to hire contractors based overseas to work for his fast-growing company, he knew he'd need help with recruiting, onboarding and paying those international employees.

"I was getting lost in the HR weeds trying to hire and pay our employees and contractors both internationally and in the United States," said Gray, founder of ApproveMe.com, a document-signing platform provider in Phoenix. "Sometimes, for example, we had to transfer money from one account to another in order to pay international contractors, which was less than ideal and time-consuming."

In his search for help, Gray turned to vendor Gusto, one of a growing number of HR technology providers with services that help small and midsize companies seeking to hire workers from different countries. With U.S. labor shortages still severe, more recruiters are turning their attention overseas to find talent to fill job openings for a wide variety of roles, for both onsite and remote work.

But hiring internationally presents unique challenges, including navigating immigration laws, conducting virtual recruiting and onboarding for remote workers, paying overseas contractors accurately and on time in different currencies, and other requirements many companies aren't equipped to handle on their own.

Renewed Interest in Overseas Talent

Pandemic-era travel restrictions and changes to U.S immigration policies made it more difficult to recruit foreign workers in the past two years. But as COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted and bureaucratic bottlenecks loosen, recruiters again are looking overseas to help alleviate chronic labor shortages.

A 2021 immigration trends survey from Envoy Global, an immigration services provider in Chicago, found that 57 percent of respondents said they're seeking to sponsor more foreign national employees primarily because they can't find enough skilled talent domestically, even with remote work having significantly expanded the U.S. talent pool. The study includes responses from 500 HR professionals and hiring managers in the United States.

"Our green card business in particular was up dramatically in the first quarter as more companies reduce the amount of time they require foreign nationals to work in the company before they sponsor them [for a work visa]," said Richard Burke, CEO of Envoy Global. "It used to be companies wanted foreign nationals on board for three years before sponsoring them, but we found over 70 percent of employers we work with are sponsoring within the first year because of labor shortages and the competitive recruiting environment."

Burke also said consulates around the world are reopening, leading to fewer visa processing delays and more foreign nationals being hired by U.S. firms. "The consulates' reopening opens up another door for legal immigration into the United States, which we've seen reflected in an acceleration in our business around H-1B and L-1 visas," Burke said.

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Help with Onboarding, Paying Foreign Workers

Gray said he also needed a way to streamline hiring and onboarding contractors.

"Hiring and onboarding took us too long, which was not sustainable given our rapid growth," Gray said. "By using the vendor's tools, like checklists, offer letters and other document features, we've been able to speed up our hiring and onboarding processes by 80 percent." 

Features on Gusto's technology platform allowed Gray to simplify how he pays international contractors, saving his staff an estimated eight hours per month in payroll processing time. He can process payments for all contractors regardless of their location on one platform, rather than having to use multiple systems.

Contractors self-onboard into the system once hired, uploading information like their location, bank details and required tax forms. Employers are shown expected conversion rates so they can anticipate how much contractors will receive in their local currency. Both employers and contractors also receive e-mail confirmations about payments.

Technology Eases Immigration Challenges

Next-generation technology platforms can help streamline and navigate the compliance- and document-intensive immigration process for international employees.

Jo Ann Rainwater, senior manager of global benefits at Asurion, a technology support company in Nashville, Tenn., partnered with Envoy Global for its legal services and technology platform.

Among the features Rainwater finds most valuable is a talent screening tool that informs recruiters when a job prospect is eligible for a work visa, even before the candidate advances to the interview phase of the hiring process. The Envoy Global platform allows companies to begin opening cases for international candidates who have accepted offers but have not yet started work.

"The talent screening tool allows us to minimize risks and ensure consistent hiring practices," Rainwater said. "Recruiters and HR also can easily view attorneys' notes in the system and follow up with any additional questions about job candidates."

Platforms like Envoy's also can make the frequent collaboration required between the multiple parties involved in immigration processes—foreign nationals, HR, attorneys and paralegals—easier and more secure, HR technology analysts say.

"It wasn't long ago that law firms specializing in immigration would rely on e-mail," Burke said. "The problem is e-mail isn't secure, and if someone goes on vacation, it's hard to access. A secure, centralized communications center allows everyone involved in the process to keep track of what's going on around the clock."

Rainwater said the platform also consolidates immigration documents and data previously scattered across her organization. "We once housed all of that information across shared drives, spreadsheets and in different departments," she said. "The new platform brings all of that into one central repository." 

Reporting tools like visa-specific dashboards on the platform also make it easier for HR to view and report on the status of all sponsored foreign national workers by displaying information including visa expiration dates, green card eligibility, country of origin and renewals required in coming months.

Support for Tax Compliance

Some technology vendors also offer tools that help HR with state tax registration when hiring contractors who are based in other U.S. states. Josh Albrechtsen, president and co-founder of Cortex, a provider of home health care nurses in Salt Lake City, saw demand for his company's services skyrocket when the pandemic hit, requiring him to quickly hire hundreds of nurses and other employees from across the United States. He went to Gusto for help with state tax registration for those workers.

"We chose to expand our hiring pool from our headquarters state of Utah to any state in the country," Albrechtsen said. "We were a bit naive in understanding the tax registration requirements for that kind of hiring. But the vendor's system prompts us about registration requirements in each state to help us remain in compliance. We did all that with a limited HR department and were able to increase the number of employees in the company from 16 to more than 500."

Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.

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