5 Things Every Foreign Worker Must Consider Before Changing Jobs

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Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blog is written by Mark Gabel, an employment lawyer who helps executives, professionals, and individuals understand and protect their rights at work. He advises on employment contracts, human resources issues, helps with severance negotiations, and represents individuals in wrongful termination claims and other disputes with their employers.

Foreign workers in the U.S. face special challenges due to their unfamiliarity with the U.S. work environment, especially when changing jobs. Compensation and long-term career prospects are important, but there are other factors foreign workers should also consider when evaluating a new job opportunity in the U.S, in order to maximize job satisfaction. Five of the most important of those factors are below.

1. Your own motivations for moving to a new role.

All of the reasons to change jobs boil down to three factors:

(i) Increasing your job satisfaction and your happiness at work (e.g., a boss and co-workers you enjoy working with, prestige, hours, flexibility and work-life balance).
(ii) Improving your compensation package (e.g., salary, bonuses, equity compensation, commissions, and/or benefits).
(iii) Improving the long-term trajectory of your career (e.g., better opportunities for promotion, acquiring skills and experience that will help you to get a job you hope to have down the road).

When considering an offer for a new job, think about which of these factors—at that time—are most important to you, and why. Then look at the new job and decide whether and how it checks these boxes. You shouldn’t take on a new role unless it fits with both your short term and long-term goals.

For example, a better title, more responsibility, or more money may not always be the best decision. If you hate the job or your co-workers, or the hours or commute make you miserable, the extra money, responsibilities, or prestige may not make you happy. On the other hand, even if you want to be home for dinner with your family every night, you may decide to give that up and take on a longer commute for a while so you can save for a down payment on a house, assist family back in your home country, save for a college education, or your own retirement.

2. Differences in corporate cultures and policies.

Do you have a good sense for what it’s going to feel like to go to work every day? Are people happy working there? Will you be? Some companies are known for working hard to address employees’ needs, or bending over backwards to fully support their foreign workers when it comes to immigration. Other companies have a reputation for cutthroat office politics, or waiting until the last possible year to start the greencard process for foreign workers. Do these things matter to you?

Because foreign workers are less familiar with the U.S. job markets, they may overlook these factors. But they can affect whether you’ll love it or hate it at a new company, so asking these questions early on can help in making an informed decision about whether to accept a job offer. It’s a good idea to research the culture of your prospective new employer before accepting an offer, if you haven’t already.

3. How will your changing jobs impact your and your family’s immigration?

Make sure you’ll be able to keep your U.S. work authorization after changing jobs. Don’t assume that you can immediately transfer your visa status to your new job, because certain types of visas will take much longer to process than others, and you’ll need to do that BEFORE you may start working for the company.

Also, if your spouse’s visa status is tied to your own, consider whether to make changes to their visa status, too. Talk to an immigration lawyer—yours or your employer’s—to make sure that you know what you need to do, and when, to meet your goals.

4. Will your non-salary compensation change?

If you’ve been offered equity along with your new job, think carefully about the implications. At most tech startups, your equity won’t start to vest until you’ve worked at the company for a year. And if company is not publicly-traded, your equity may not be worth much. Even if it is very valuable, there may be no one to whom you can sell your shares. Compare this prospect to what you currently have at your employer. If you’re vested, and a sale, IPO, or stock buyback occurs in the future, crunch those numbers now to see how much you would gain, and then consider whether you would actually realize that money.

You might also want to consider this: if you have vested equity at your current employer when you leave, or if you’re granted options, stock, or other equity at the new company right away, you may get hit with a sizable tax bill you’ll be responsible for paying. If you don’t have a savings cushion to absorb this tax bill when it comes, you may be in a pinch. (Check with an accountant who is experienced with equity compensation to find out more about the tax implications of changing jobs.)

Many employees don’t think much about the non-monetary parts of their compensation packages, but employee benefits for professional workers can have a cash value equal to 30% of salary. These include health insurance and contributions to retirement accounts. Make sure you understand what insurance options your new employer offers, and how much you’ll have to pay for coverage at the new job. Many foreign workers decide to contribute to U.S. retirement plans, especially if they plan to become citizens eventually.

5. Where you hope, plan, or expect to be working down the line.

If later on you’re planning on returning to your home country, or moving on to another foreign job on another continent, think about how the new job will prepare you for those goals. What industries are strongest in the places you may want to work later? What jobs are most in demand? What kind of experience may employers in those places want to see—for example, would you do better later on if you were a manager now, or an independent contributor? You may or may not know the answers to these questions, but if you plan to leave the U.S. at some point, they should at least be part of your thinking.

Finally, remember that jobs don’t last forever. Companies change their business models, get acquired, reorganize, and go out of business every day. If that happens at your new job, your responsibilities and reporting structure could change, or you could be laid off. Would the new company accommodate your immigration needs? Those risks are often greater at newer startups, or companies that have just been acquired. The rewards of working at newer companies may be worthwhile but it’s always a good idea to do your research in advance prior to accepting that new role.

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This post does not constitute legal advice, and should NOT be rely upon when making decisions that may impact your legal rights. No two situations are alike. Mark Gabel can be reached at Gabel Law Firm, P.C. at info@gabel-law-firm.com and online https://gabel-law-firm.com/contact/.

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