HR Needs to Know Immigration Basics to Recruit, Retain Global Talent

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 29, 2010

SAN DIEGO—“The U.S. immigration system is unlike any other immigration system in the world,” Eric S. Bord, a partner with the Washington, D.C. office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, told attendees during a packed SHRM’s Annual Conference session titled “Immigration 101 for HR Generalists” held here June 28, 2010.

During the session, Bord outlined:

  • Who needs a work visa, and when.
  • Types and limitations of temporary visas.
  • H-1Bs, foreign students and transferees.
  • Green cards, labor certification and the quota system.
  • Corporate policy tips and recommendations.
  • Immigration issues and workforce change (RIFs, mergers, restructuring).
  • Immigration compliance (I-9 basics, tips).

In addition, he discussed how valuable recruitment and retention of talent worldwide can be used by employers to their strategic advantage.

As a rule, he said, “the type of paperwork [an employee] needs depends on what they want to do and how long they plan to be here,” Bord said. For example, “people who come here as students need to prove they’re not here to stay permanently.”

Bord told the standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 people that “visa types are an alphabet soup.

“Typically for work situations you’re going to see the E, H, L, O, P and TN. Then there are those for business, pleasure, and for visa waiver. Work authorization is typically limited to a certain period of time and restricted to a particular employer,” he said.

“In the whole U.S. immigration system, there is no notion of a freelancer or independent contractor,” he added. “There’s no bridge to automatically convert from temporary to permanent” either, he said.

Some common work visas:

  • H-1B: Professional
  • H-1B1: Professional from Chile or Singapore
  • H-2B: Temporary Seasonal/Unskilled
  • L-1: Transferee
  • TN: NAFTA Professional
  • E-1/E-2: Treaty Trader/Investor
  • E-3: Australian Professional
  • O-1: Extraordinary Ability

Other temporary classifications:

  • B-1/B-2 Visitor
  • F-1 Student
  • J-1 International Exchange Visitor
  • VWP—Visa Waiver Program

Bord said HR professionals must remember that a visa is not an authorization to work. It’s just permission to enter the country. For nonimmigrants, the I-94 document or other entry document given after the visa is inspected at entry; it is a “work-permit” and residence document.

Bord told attendees to make sure that if a foreign-born employee is traveling internationally, that person’s visa isn’t expired. If it is nearing expiration, the employee might have to return to their home country and have it renewed, or they might be denied re-entry into the United States.

“If you have someone here on an H-1B and their visa is about to expire and they need to go to France, they’ll need a new H-1B visa stamp to come back or otherwise she won’t have the paperwork that allows her to be admitted.”

Bord outlined the basics of filling out the I-9, or work eligibility verification form. He said HR should remember to complete section one of the form at the time of hire; review all original documents; complete section two within three days of the start date; reverify an expired work authorization; retain the I-9; and be prepared to present it for inspection if necessary.

His I-9 rules to live by include: reviewing and ensuring that all blanks are completed; making sure that the correct box in section one is checked off; examining only original documents; entering information about the documents in the appropriate boxes; and remembering to include the title of the I-9 form preparer.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow her conference coverage via Twitter @1SHRMScribe.


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