In April of 2016, I applied for a new passport. I had to fill out some forms, they took a hideous picture of my face, I paid a fee. But then the woman at the desk crossed out where I had circled "50 pages," and said, "you won't need more than 25." I stopped her and asked her to confirm that 50 pages weren't more expensive than 25, which she did. I then insisted I wanted the 50-page version and three years into my ten-year passport I am now on page 26.
I knew I would need a lot of passport pages back in 2016 because starting that year I was getting sponsored to work in Zimbabwe.
What is employment sponsorship?
“Employment sponsorship” is when an employer “sponsors” or provides some financial or legal backing to enable an individual to do something: most commonly, obtain an employment visa. If you wish to live and work in a country you are not from, and you don’t have a legal right to do so — such as ancestry or a spouse — employment sponsorship is a good way to gain entry and live legally.
What is an employment visa?
An employment visa is a document that allows you to enter and reside in a country and to work for a local company or organization. Employment visas differ, but they are typically in your passport and will communicate to immigration officials that you have legal permission to enter or be in the country and to work.
Different types of employment visas.
The U.S. has five types of employment visas. Zimbabwe, by contrast, has only one. Below are some, but not all, of the employment visa variations you might see throughout the world.
- Priority Worker Visa (US)
- Professionals with Advanced Academic Degrees/Persons of Exceptional Ability Visa (US)
- Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers Visa (US)
- Certain Special Immigrant Visa (US) – this includes religious employment in the US, but many countries have separate employment visas for religious personnel
- Immigrant Investor Visa (US) – sometimes called entrepreneur visas in other countries depending on the investment type
- Critical skills Employment Visa
- Self-Employment Visa
- Jobseeker Visa
- Working Holiday Visa
- Intra-Company Transfer Visa
- Sportsman Visa
- Temporary Worker Visa
- Domestic Worker Visa
Sponsorship for employment costs.
Sponsorship for employment can be quite expensive. Employment visas alone often cost over $500. A “Skilled Workers Visa” in the U.S., for example, can cost between $700-$1200, a similar visa in the U.K. costs £575, and in Zimbabwe, the equivalent costs $500. Sponsorship for employment becomes more expensive if you engage an immigration attorney or if there are high relocation costs. There are also many hidden costs. When I was applying in Zimbabwe, for example, I had to obtain police clearances and coordinate other original documentation that was expensive to send and receive by courier.
How to sponsor an employee's work visa.
When an employer sponsors an employee, they are taking responsibility for that employee’s immigration to a new country, which is no small matter. Companies must ensure they take their time and go through the steps carefully, paying attention to detail and good record keeping. First, an employer will have to indicate to their country’s immigration department that they need a specific foreign nation to fulfill a job position and that the company will benefit from the employment of this individual. This often involves making a case for why the job cannot or should not be filled by a local citizen. Depending on whether the foreign national is being offered permanent employment and residence or temporary (some countries only offer the latter) the forms and fees for sponsorship will vary.
Steps for employment sponsorship in the U.S.
For permanent employment/residency, aka a green card:
- The first step is an Application for Permanent Labor Certification (Form ETA 9089) from the Department of Labor (DOL), which will acknowledge that hiring a foreign national will be better than hiring a US citizen and doing so will not harm US citizens’ wages, working conditions, or opportunities.
- After the DOL has approved the labor certification, then you need an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, which is Form I-140. This application will involve a lot of supporting documentation and evidence.
- You will then have to pay processing fees and wait for results.
For nonimmigrant sponsorship, up to six years:
- Contact the DOL and file a Labor Condition Application (LCA).
- After your LCA is approved, you need to fill in a H-1B application, which is Form I-129: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.
- You will then have to pay processing fees and wait for results.
Benefits and challenges of hiring employees who are immigrants.
Between immigration departments, fees, relocation costs and personal transitions, employing immigrants can be difficult both on the company and the individual. But, as someone who works abroad, the pros can far outweigh the cons. Even so, both the company and the employee should consider the benefits and challenges before jumping in.
- Diversity. By hiring immigrants, you are adding diversity to your team in the broadest possible sense. This goes beyond diversity in demographics and touches on diversity in experience, personality, and world outlook. In Zimbabwe, you can't order a piece from Amazon when something breaks so people are always on their toes with innovative ways to build, fix and improve things with whatever they have available. This transcends physical objects and is a national way of life and thinking, something US citizens haven't had to have but something that could make a Zimbabwean employee irreplaceable.
- A wider pool of talent. There are people doing incredible things all over the world, and by limiting your applicant pool to only those within your own borders you could easily be missing the individuals who would be the most productive, most innovative, or most effective members of your team.
- Tenacity. Someone who has left home to work has left their support system, their frame of reference, and ultimately their comfort zone behind. This can be incredibly hard on the individual, but it also means they are adaptable, incredibly motivated, and brave. Immigrants often make the strongest and most focused employees, since they have had to work to create a new comfort zone and they want their employment abroad to be a success.
- Cost. From relocation to international health insurance and visa applications and fees, sponsoring immigrants can be quite expensive both in terms of time and money.
- Immigration. Even after you have successfully obtained visas, flights, and everything else, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or your country's equivalent) will always be a factor. From travel to job titles to taxes to running a red light, there are risks associated with immigrant employment.
- Burnout. Immigrant employees have to deal with a lot of hardship that local employees do not. Homesickness, discrimination based on nationality, legal issues, and lack of community can all make life difficult for immigrant employees and lead to job burnout if they are not addressed.