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Make Like Magellan

The best workers for your business aren't necessarily in your neighborhood. They may not even be on your continent.

Have you shaken the bushes looking for more employees to hire in your growing company but come up empty--or at least with less-than-stellar candidates? Some businesses are looking to the global market for employees, particularly employees with high-tech skills. The process may be worthwhile, but it can get complex and expensive.

First, says Philip A. Barquer, president of HR Alternatives Inc. in Irvine, California, you need to understand some immigration basics. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) requires you to demonstrate that you can't find American workers for jobs before you hire from overseas. You can do that, Barquer says, by running ads and keeping track of applications.

You should also be aware that the INS has set quotas for immigration from individual countries. If the quota from a particular country has been met, you won't be able to hire someone from there, even if your company and the candidate meet all the other qualifications. And don't expect to save money on salaries by hiring workers from overseas; the INS requires that you pay salaries equivalent to your current employees' wages or to the general labor market for the skills involved.

Barquer says U.S. companies are finding foreign employees by advertising in various industry publications as well as on the Internet, and by hiring international firms that specialize in finding employees. He recommends that smaller companies use search firms rather than try to do it alone.

Before you begin to actually look for prospective employees, be sure to think the rest of the process through. You'll need an immigration attorney to help with the legal aspects, such as work permits and residency status, of bringing the new employee to the United States. This can cost up to $10,000, and you also need to decide who will pay those fees. "It's not automatic that the employer pays all those costs," says Barquer. You may pay the attorney, but you may require the candidate to pay, or you may split the costs. You'll need to make the same decision regarding who will pay for relocation expenses. And you should have a plan to help the employee acclimate to the new culture and work environment.

Because the hiring process can take anywhere from six months to a year, don't look to the global marketplace for workers you need in a hurry. And although many of these workers will eventually apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship, don't count on them for a period beyond their initial work permit. If an employee has a 10-year work permit, and you hire that person after they've already been in the country for eight years, there are only two years left. Even with those drawbacks, however, the international marketplace can be a tremendous source for top talent that will bring diversity to your organization.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Make Like Magellan.

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