American small business owners have been struggling to find workers over the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many workers to retire early, with others quitting their jobs to seek more lucrative and personal employment opportunities. This workforce shortage has left many employers scrambling to find talented employees to help maintain their business.

One solution is for companies to hire immigrant workers through government programs. These programs partner workers from foreign countries with businesses that need their help. Here is a guide to how small businesses can find and hire these workers.

What immigration programs exist to help small businesses hire workers?

There are numerous immigration programs that can help companies meet their workforce needs, and the right one depends on your industry and hiring goals. For example, tech companies that need highly skilled workers can use programs such as the H-1B program, L1 program, TN visa, and E visa.

“These programs are designed to meet the needs for companies that have year-round, high-skilled, high-educated job opportunities that they cannot fill,” said Jon Baselice, Vice President of Immigration Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Small business owners that operate seasonal companies, such as landscaping, seafood processing, and farming jobs, can enroll in the H-2 program to meet their workforce needs. The H-2A program helps businesses in the agricultural industry find employment, while the H-2B program covers nonagricultural opportunities.

Most of these programs are non-immigration visa programs. The workers seeking employment through these programs are only seeking a temporary stay in the United States for work, not full-time residency. That’s why most of them allow workers to be hired for one season and then they have to return home. However, depending on the program, companies can rehire that worker or apply to extend their stay.

[Read more: How Does a Company Sponsor H-1B Visas?]

The immigration system can move frustratingly slow, particularly after the height of COVID. Everything just came to a grinding halt. Things that used to take a few months to process are now taking upwards of a year. Things that used to take [one] year are now taking [multiple] years.

Jon Baselice, Vice President of Immigration Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Considerations when hiring immigrant workers

If your business is looking to explore immigration programs to tap into the global talent pool, here are a few important considerations to keep in mind.

Work with a legal expert

Hiring an immigrant worker isn’t as straightforward as hiring a domestic employee. You’ll need proper legal representation to review paperwork and documentation and to see the process through to the end.

“You need to find a competent immigration council that has experience and has been successful in helping other companies meet their workforce needs,” Baselice said.

When seeking legal counsel, it’s wise to hire an attorney who specifically deals in immigration law. If possible, find someone who has either represented similar businesses in your industry or done case work with your program. This ensures that your company is legally protected and that you’re hiring workers through the proper channels.

Plan ahead

COVID-19 and subsequent border shutdowns had a major impact on the U.S. immigration process, and some of those delays are still being felt over two years later.

“The immigration system can move frustratingly slow, particularly after the height of COVID,” Baselice said. “Everything just came to a grinding halt. Things that used to take a few months to process are now taking upwards of a year. Things that used to take [one] year are now taking [multiple] years.”

To that end, companies that want to go through an immigration program should plan to prepare months or even years in advance for an upcoming seasonal hiring push or major project to assemble the workforce they need at the proper time.

Think of the individual’s needs

Companies that are hiring workers for more traditional employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories have to consider the individual that they want to hire and their specific needs.

“In some cases, the individual would like to bring their spouse and their children,” Baselice said. “Oftentimes, the cost of doing this gets passed onto the company that wants to sponsor that worker to come here.”

If a worker is looking to bring their spouse or children to the U.S. during the duration of their work visa, employers need to know what that may cost them and what programs allow them to do so. Some immigrant programs do not allow anyone but the worker to come into the country.

To learn more about immigration programs that can help small businesses fill their workforce gaps, read the U.S. Chamber’s guide to specialty immigration visas.

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