USA Employment and Visas

Stay legal!

Please be sure everyone working for you in the USA is legally entitled to do so. If you need help with immigration, work permits and visas, please use a reputable specialist. At no charge to clients, ExportAction is able to make an introduction on behalf of clients to an attorney specializing in this field.

We would say it, but… if you fancy a move to the US, having established a business (longer time the better) is a good help towards Visas and Immigration. 

Before doing anything else, a visit to the ESTA web site is recommend.

If you wish to travel to the US on business or vacation, and you have a current, machine-readable British passport, and you will stay for less than 90 days… ESTA is almost certainly for you. DO USE THEIR WEB SITE AND DO NOT USE A COMMERCIAL ORGANIZATION.

PLEASE be careful about companies that tell you they can help you with Visas – it seems to attract charlatans. First, don’t use web sites that aren’t .gov – there are loads of them. Second, don’t use a lawyer/attorney without getting a good reference (we know a good one). The bad guys seem to take £3,000 upwards, take ages and take the line that when you don’t get what you want that’s your problem, they’ve done the work (huh!) and they’re keeping your money.


From a UK perspective, the upside of hiring staff in the USA comes when you want to terminate employment. You can pretty much say, “I don’t need/want/like you any more… so here is two weeks money.” The downside is the first you know about an employee having moved to another job is when they don’t turn up for work.

Something to get in perspective is how Americans are at applying for jobs. Compared with UK job-hunters, they can be FANTASTIC! They can produce CVs that have to be seen to be believed. They are GREAT at being interviewed. They are positive and promise more than you could ask. And they are really good negotiators.

Here is a list of the top ten metropolitan areas with the highest average wages in 2009, according to the US Bureau of Statistics:

  1. San Jose, CA – $30.92 per hour
  2. Washington, DC – $27.44
  3. San Francisco, CA – $27.31
  4. Bridgeport, CT – $26.52
  5. Boston, MA – $25.81
  6. Boulder, CO – $25.50
  7. Trenton, NJ – $25.42
  8. New York City, NY – $25.39
  9. Seattle, WA – $24.21
  10. Hartford, CT – $24.20

You’ll see California, New York and Massachusetts featuring high in those rankings – and Florida not at all.

Expect to pay people every two weeks. Most private employers provide employees with benefits including health insurance (you need to know about Medicare and Medicaid, life insurance, pension (401K) plans, sick pay, paid vacations and paid holidays.

Non-compete agreements are subject to state laws, so the validity and the enforcement of these contracts differ from state to state. For example, non-compete agreements are not enforceable in California except in very rare circumstances. In some states, a non-disclosure agreement, which establishes the confidentiality of shared knowledge or materials and restricts third party access, is an appropriate supplement or alternative to non-compete agreements

If you are honest with yourself about the cost of employing people – and take account of all costs, including interview(s) and the associated travel, subsistence and time expenses – you’ll see how attractive outsourcing can be. Do not overlook the costs of cover for leave for vacations, sickness, compassionate reasons, training…

Employment in the USA is often regarded by UK executives as being heavily in favor of the employer… but most staff are on two-weeks notice, and sometimes the first time you know an employee doesn’t work for you is when they don’t turn up for work.

If you do decide to hire USA staff, make sure they focus on what you are paying them to do. There is nothing worse than having a sales executive explain how they had to go to the bank, or the post office, or wait in the office for a delivery.

Make sure they do not influence where your office is located. Offices do not move, employees do. Home working is much more widely used and acceptable in the USA.

Employment is the USA is regulated by federal, state and local authorities. Discrimination laws are based on age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability and other protected characteristics.

As an employer, take note of:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Civil Rights Act
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act
  • The Health Maintenance Organization Act
  • The Equal Pay Act
  • Minimum Wage Requirements
  • Overtime Requirements
  • Child Labor restrictions, and
  • The National Labor Relations Act

Take account of notice posting requirements, job applications and interview processes, processing of new hires, personnel files, employee policies and handbooks (clients of ExportAction have access to our own Employee Handbook), hazard communication, smoking regulations, record-keeping, employee conduct and progressive discipline, state employee benefit and insurance requirements.

Very importantly, learn what questions not to ask at interview – and how to get the answers to the questions you must not ask!

They want to work in…

“We have an employee who wants to work in…” Boston, New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Diego… we have heard them all.  We will be pleased to discuss this with you, but prepare yourself by answering some questions.

First, please be absolutely sure they are legally entitled to work in the USA. You can do irreparable damage to your company and its business by employing an “illegal alien.” If you have a serious future in the USA, it is not worth the risk of what can look to be (but is not) a chance worth taking.

Ask yourself what the employee will be doing in the USA. Is their contribution towards your business really best served by being based in the USA?Ask where they want to be based. Is that location truly best for your business, or is your employee being influenced by family, friends, lifestyle…?

Put your business interests first. It can be a good indicator if you ask the employee who wants to go to the West Coast, if they really want to be in the USA if they are prepared to be based on the East Coast.

Establish what the individual is going to be doing. If it is sales, there are few things worse than hearing explanations from sales executives that they could not make target because they had to be in the office to answer the ‘phone, deal with the mail, wait for a parcel… or go to the post office or the bank.

Is a one-person office good for your business? Who will cover for vacation, sickness, compassionate leave, training, customer visits?

Will you have a company? Will it be based in a business and tax friendly location or where your first hiring chooses?

Are you prepared for the responsibilities of employing someone in the USA? 

How confident are you in the long-term commitment of someone who wants to leave the UK for the USA? What will be the implications of setting-up an employee in, say, Kansas City and having them leave at, sometimes, very short notice?

About this document

This document was first published in August 2012. It is an extract from “USA success for UK SMEs” copies of which are available without charge or obligation on request from [email protected].

 This document is published by ExportAction, a UK SME working to help other UK SMEs add sales, profits and value to their companies by assisting them establish, develop and manage business in the world’s largest, single-country market, the USA.

The content of this document is the copyright of ExportAction Ltd and ExportAction, LLC. All trademarks are the properties of their respective owners and their use is acknowledged.

 We have made reasonable efforts to make this document accurate and up-to-date, but  ExportAction accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage caused to any person or business as result of any information in this document. The information in this document is subject to charge without notice.

 This document is an information guide only and not a substitute for your own research or independent advice.

 ExportAction does not offer or provide financial or legal advice and recommends taking appropriate professional advice before investing any business project or venture.

ExportAction was founded in 2007 with decades of experience of doing business in the USA. The company is owner-managed, self-financed, debt-free, profitable and growing.

ExportAction is now working with client companies in California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington. We are able to provide services throughout the USA.

Please visit our web site at or call our UK office on 0845 5280 567.

Countries: United States
Topics: Employees and Legislation & Regulation
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