Working in the USA: untangling the red tape

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Immigration lawyer, Genie Doi, talks operators through the process of applying for visas and work permits for foreign nationals 

The ongoing roll-out of online casino and sports betting in the USA presents huge opportunities for casino and racetrack operators.

There will be challenges, of course, and one of the greatest will be employing the right people to launch online casino and sports betting products.

In this regard, veterans from the European market are to be considered high-value assets that have the necessary experience and knowledge to ensure success.

But onboarding foreign nationals is a complex process; to work in the USA they must first obtain the necessary visas and work permits. Below, I unravel the red-tape.

First things first, the work visa:

The first thing an organization must do on behalf of the foreign national is apply for, and obtain, a work visa by filing a Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker or Form I-129 with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This is a document that permits them to travel to, enter, and work in the USA.

The most relevant visa is a Temporary Worker Visa (Skilled Worker), also referred to as H-1B. This visa is for persons working in specialized occupations, and gaming professionals should qualify.

It is worth noting this visa requires that, at minimum, the foreign national possess the US equivalent of a bachelor’s degree and occupies a professional position.

However, only 85,000 H-1B visa applications are accepted by the government each year, with the application period opening on April 1.

Alas, with the growth of the US economy and demand high for technology workers, H-1Bs are becoming a non-option – this year, 190,098 H-1B applications were received by April 6, closing the application period within a matter of days.

Alternative visa options include:

O-1: for individuals who can show “extraordinary ability or achievement” in business.

E-3: for Australians with a bachelor’s degree.

TN: for Canadians or Mexican nationals with a bachelor’s degree.

L-1: for managers, executives or highly specialized workers of multinational companies (where the applicant has at least one year of work experience with the company abroad).

J-1: for short-term (12- to 18-month) management trainees with a foreign bachelor’s degree or five years of professional experience.

E-2: for managers, executives or highly specialized workers who have the same nationality as the employer (for example, the US employer is at least 50% owned by UK entities, and seeks to employ a British executive).

Following approval of the petition, the application process for a visa can begin in earnest.

To do this, the foreign national must complete an online application and upload a photo of themselves via the Department of State’s website.

At this stage, they will also need to schedule an interview at a consulate in their country of residence. Waiting times for the interview will vary.

They will need to take their passport and visa application confirmation with them to the interview, along with a photo and petition approval receipt number.

A non-refundable visa application fee of $190-205 is also payable.

The purpose of the interview is to determine whether they are suitably qualified for the visa they have applied for.

Digital fingerprint scans will be taken, usually during the interview itself, and a further fee may be payable when (and if) the visa is issued depending on the nationality and visa type of the applicant.

Next up, they will need a social security number:

Social security numbers are used to report a person’s salary to the government and thereby determine their tax liabilities, as well as eligibility for services and benefits.

Foreign nationals can obtain a social security number (SSN) after entering the United States with their work visa by applying at a local Social Security Administration office.

Their social security card will then arrive at their registered mailing address approximately two weeks after the application is made.

Make it permanent: obtaining a Green Card:

Undoubtedly the most iconic American immigration document, Green Cards are officially called Permanent Resident Cards.

As the name suggests, they allow residents without US citizenship to settle permanently in the country.

The application process is complex and can take a number of years. Once a foreign national has established eligibility, in most cases, they will need a sponsor to file an immigration petition on their behalf.

For gaming professionals, this is often their employer. Once this has been approved, they will then need to complete Form I-485 to officially apply for a Green Card.

In due course they should be asked to provide digital scans of their fingerprints, a photograph and signature, and to attend an interview.

Take your chance with the Green Card lottery:

Every year, foreign nationals and potential immigrants are given the chance to obtain a Green Card through a lottery program, officially known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

There are 50,000 Green Cards up for grabs, but fewer than 1% of applicants are selected for the process. Additional background checks are carried out for those selected.

It’s worth noting that President Trump has called for ending the diversity lottery program “as soon as possible” so this option may not be available for much longer.

One last hurdle: a state gaming license:

There may be one more bureaucratic hoop to jump through: most states will require individuals to be licensed by the gaming regulator in order to be able to work in the sector.

Foreign nationals can begin work without approval while the regulator conducts the necessary checks – the process can take many months.

If the license is granted, they can carry on as they are, but if it is declined for whatever reason, they must cease work immediately.

You should liaise with the gaming regulator in the state where your employee will work to determine which license they must apply for and obtain.

The consultancy option:

For operators looking to access top talent instantly, expert consultants are a viable alternative. US companies may hire consulting firms to be deployed on a project in a matter of days rather than months. Because the company is not an “employer” in a business-to-business engagement, there is no need for visa sponsorship in a consulting arrangement.

 Genie Doi is of counsel at ESG Law and is also the founder of immigrate.la.