At first glance, the U.S. immigration system may seem too incomprehensible to an overworked non-profit executive or human resources professional to justify even considering the hiring of a foreign national for a position within his or her organization.  As with any other area of law, though, with the right legal advice, hiring a foreign national does not have to be daunting.  In fact, many non-profits can benefit from more favorable rules under the immigration regulations than those that apply to for-profit entities.

Here is a brief summary of some of the visa categories commonly utilized by non-profits to hire foreign nationals.

H-1B Visa for Professionals:  The H-1B visa can be used to hire professionals ranging from Program Managers to Web Programmers and any position in between that requires the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The visa is valid for an initial three-year period, and is renewable for an additional three-years, for a total of six years.  The H-1B is frequently used to hire recent graduates of U.S. colleges and universities who studied in the U.S. pursuant to a student visa.

Many non-profits benefit greatly in the H-1B context, because certain non-profit organizations are not subject to the annual numerical cap that renders H-1B visas hard-to-obtain in the private sector.  Similarly, those same non-profits enjoy government filing fee reductions (i.e., a waiver of $750 to $1500 in fees, depending on the size of the organization.)  The organizations that can benefit from these perks include institutions of higher education, non-profit entities related to or affiliated with institutions of higher education, non-profit research organizations, and governmental research organizations.

My non-profit clients have used the H-1B visa to hire, among other occupations, teachers, composers, program directors, exhibits preparators, database programmers, and scientific researchers.  So long as a bachelor’s degree is required for the position, the possibilities are endless.

TN Visa for Professionals from Mexico and Canada:  The TN visa is a visa category limited to professionals from Mexico and Canada.  It is available for an initial period of three-years and is renewable indefinitely.

Although there are no special rules or exemptions for non-profits under the TN visa category, it is a very useful category for non-profits, because there are no numerical caps, meaning that the visa is available year-round.  It also carries much lower government filing fees than the H-1B visa, which can make a big difference to a non-profit entity with a limited budget.

TN visas are limited to certain enumerated professionals set forth in the NAFTA.  These professionals include, among others, social workers, medical and allied professionals, vocational counselors, university-level professors, management consultants, scientists, research assistants, and scientific technicians and technologists.

R-1 Visa for Religious Workers:  The R-1 visa program allows religious organizations to hire foreign-national ministers, as well as individuals working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation, such as cantors, liturgical workers, religious broadcasters, and members of the religious vocation, such as nuns and monks.  The initial visa validity period is three years (with a total period of stay of five years.)

Other visa categories of interest:  The O Visa can be used to hire individuals with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, or educational arenas.  The P-3 Visa can be used to bring artists and entertainers to the U.S. to perform, teach, or coach a culturally-unique program.  The L Visa can be utilized by trans-national non-profits to transfer executives and managers to the U.S. from abroad.  The I Visa is used by representatives of the foreign press.

– Ginger Jacobs

This week’s post is written by Ginger Jacobs, a San Diego-based immigration attorney.  You can reach Ginger at (619) 230-0012 or

3 Responses to “Hiring a Foreign National for your Non-Profit: A World of Possibilities”

  1. Joe Giso

    Is there a program for voluntary compliance for prior years?

  2. Sumeet

    I would like to get some assistance in sponsoring an h1b visa for my charity organization

  3. Gene Takagi

    Sumeet, the author of this post, Ginger Jacobs, may be the best person to contact if you’re in Southern California. Her firm website is


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