Insurance companies require innovative immigration strategies to remain competitive in the global marketplace. From moving business leaders around the world to onboarding talent, understanding visa processes and compliance is essential. Below, we briefly address multiple immigration compliance issues affecting insurance companies operating in the U.S.
Relevant Employment-Based Temporary Visa Categories
Employers in the insurance industry may need to consider sponsoring workers for U.S. visas, despite the potentially complicated process. Flexibility on sponsorship allows employers to consider more employees for the job, including new graduates from U.S. universities.
H-1B – Specialty Occupation
The H-1B visa is one of the most common professional visas for professional, qualified non-U.S. citizen talent. The H-1B visa classification is for specialty occupations, which means occupations that require (1) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and (2) attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum requirement for entry into the occupation in the United States. The employer must also demonstrate that it is offering the prevailing wage for the occupation in the proposed labor market.
For insurance companies, occupations like business analysts, financial specialists, IT professionals, engineers, executives and other professional positions typically qualify as “specialty occupations” under the H-1B rules. A recent graduate on a student visa, after a post-graduate period of work authorization, eventually will need to secure a longer-term work visa, and the H-1B is a popular choice for these employees.
One main challenge associated with applying for H-1B visas is timing. A limited number of new H-1B visas are available each year, and because more H-1B petitions are filed than are available, employers must register for a random lottery. The registration period typically occurs in the first few weeks of March, with the lottery selection in early April. Employers with employee registrations selected in the lottery may file H-1B petitions on behalf of those employees for an October 1 effective date.
This random lottery is imposed because in previous years, employer demand for H-1B visas exceeded the congressionally mandated “cap” on annual H-1Bs: 65,000 new H-1B visas per fiscal year, plus an additional 20,000 for individuals who have graduated with a master’s degree or above from a U.S. university (for a total of 85,000). Some types of organizations and applicants are exempt from this cap, meaning they may submit new H-1B petitions at any time without regard to the H-1B cap limit. In general, most financial services and insurance companies are not exempt from the cap but should check with immigration counsel to confirm.
Note that if a candidate for a professional position is already working in the U.S. in H-1B status, the new employer may submit an H-1B petition on her behalf at any time, with no lottery. Foreign national employees have a maximum of six years of H-1B status available, although that maximum can be exceeded if the employee has reached a certain stage of the green card process. Where possible, employers seeking to hire individuals who already hold H-1B status should determine how many years of H-1B status remain so they can evaluate the timing of starting the green card process in the hiring decision.
TN – Mexican and Canadian Professionals
The TN is a visa option for Mexican and Canadian professionals in certain occupational categories. For insurance employers, common TN occupational categories include accountant, computer systems analyst, economist, engineer, mathematician (including statistician), and potentially management consultant.
There is no limit on the number of years one can work in TN status, although applicants may face scrutiny from immigration authorities when multiple extensions are filed.
The initial period of stay in the U.S. in TN status is up to three years. Individuals who wish to remain in the U.S. beyond this initial period must either file for an extension of stay with USCIS or depart from the U.S. and reapply for TN status. TN extensions of stay are usually granted in three-year increments.
O-1 – Extraordinary Ability
For companies launching innovative products, in R&D or in a highly specialized industry, some non-U.S. citizen candidates may qualify for an O-1 visa, which is reserved for individuals of “Extraordinary Ability or Achievement.” This visa requires evidence that the candidate meets three of eight categories, including winning achievement prizes, publishing scholarly articles, serving as a judge of the work of others, and significant scholarly or scientific contributions.
Individuals can hold O-1 status for an indefinite period, although an extension needs to be filed after three years.
The O-1 categories may, on their face, appear to apply mostly to academics and researchers, but employers can apply for those at a high level in the business world as well. Creativity in this category can go a long way for financial professionals who are at the top of their field.
F-1 – International Student
Most foreign students in the U.S. have F-1 student visas. F-1 students are allowed to work only in very narrow circumstances, generally for one year after graduation in Optional Practical Training (OPT). They may work for any employer in OPT as long as the work is closely related to their field of study. For now, students in STEM fields may seek additional OPT work authorization for an additional 24 months if the employer uses the E-Verify employment verification system.
B-1 Visa - Business Travel
The B-1 visa is available to foreign nationals for temporary business visits to the U.S. The B-1 visa is available for business travel for a specific and limited period. Permissible business activities include consulting with business associates, participating in short-term training, attending professional conventions or conferences or negotiating a contract. The maximum amount of time permitted in B-1 status on any one trip is one year, although most B-1 visitors are admitted for six months. The B-1 visitor may not engage in any hands-on, productive work. In recent years, B-1 business visitors have come under scrutiny. Officials are now seeking additional information to demonstrate that the visit complies with B-1 rules and may request meeting agendas, calendar appointments and other evidence to prove the reason for the visit.
The immigration landscape is shifting quickly, and U.S. insurance companies should consider these compliance issues when identifying, attracting and retaining highly qualified talent.