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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Citizenship privileges and corporate performance reviews

If you want to work in certain parts of tech, and your parents happened to hook up in the right place on the planet, you may have won the citizenship lottery. Otherwise, the fact that you were born somewhere outside the US can set you up for some trying times.

This is something that not a lot of people seem to realize is going on. If you're at a company of any decent size that has brought in folks from outside the country, you probably have at least one coworker who has gone through it, or may still be experiencing it. Basically, it is a complication on top of the existing crap shoot that is the biannual performance review process at many companies that certain privileged folks (myself included) never had to worry about, but other people always have to worry about.

And for what? Because my parents were here instead of there? Wonderful.

Here's a very real situation that applies to several of my friends and former co-workers. They land a job with a big tech company. That job eventually moves to "the States", and they want to move with it. The company sponsors them for a visa which will let them do exactly that.

This visa only lasts three years. While it's active, they have to work for a company that's willing to sponsor them. If they leave that company for whatever reason (quitting, being fired, layoff, whatever), they have ten days to land another sponsored job and get their stuff in order, or they have to drop their whole lives and bug out to a country they might not even call home any more.

Ten days! Think about this. How much can you get done in ten days? Can you wrap up your living situation and pull off an intercontinental move in that time? What if you have pets and there are quarantine issues in transporting them back to that distant land? Can you sell your car? Or arrange for it to be moved, too? What about, well, everything?

To make matters even more interesting, at least here in California, the DMV will only issue you a license that lasts as long as your visa will cover. That means even if you get renewed for another span of time, you still have to deal with the bureaucracy and ridiculous (day-long) lines just to "re-up" that little piece of plastic which lets you drive. That almost certainly means taking a day off work, if not two or three, like if you forget something and have to come back and start over. This can set up friction with your employer and negatively influence your review (read on).

But okay, you think, get a green card, right? It's not quite that simple. Besides the limits on who can get them and how many are even available per unit of time, there are other things to consider. Go back to my post about "up or out" from a few months back. That's the thing where you have to make it to a certain level at your company within a certain number of years, or they will basically cut you loose and fire you. They call it a "PIP", or "performance improvement plan", but really, if you go through that and fail, you get canned.

Since I wrote that, I learned there's an additional complication. At least some of these companies will not sponsor you for a green card while you're not yet at the terminal level. I guess they figure "if we might end up canning them anyway, why bring them into the country".

This is terrible and brings up imagery of human trafficking.

So think about this. While you, the citizen, have never had to worry about this, your friend, next-door neighbor, person in the seat next to you on Caltrain or BART, or whatever probably has to deal with this. Their next performance review is not just about whether they get a solid rating and feel good. It's not just about whether they get a raise or a bonus, or maybe some stock options or units.

No, instead, it's also potentially linked to whether they can stay in the country or not. Think about that. Their whole day to day existence is linked to whether they can do good work (in a good company) or kiss enough ass (in a bad one) and be recognized for it.

You, citizen, probably had no idea. I certainly didn't before recently.

Someone like me who happened to be born in the US can just shrug this off. I can let the PIP come, hit the end of the road, and walk out the door. Or I can say I've had enough, and just quit. Then I can literally walk across the street to whatever business happens to be there and try my luck at applying because I'm a citizen. Or, I can not apply somewhere else, and decide to try my hand at my own thing.

Our friends can't do that. What's more, they walk a fine line every day between employment and getting kicked out of the country.

What do we do about this? We listen, and try to understand. We try to find solutions that appreciate that this stressing people out and is hurting them overall. We try to find them better jobs that don't suck that they can look forward to going to every day while still fulfilling the sponsorship process. We may even try to find them a partner who already is a citizen so they can finally settle down in this land that they clearly want to be a part of.

Long story short, if you know someone who seems to have an extra weight on their shoulders and seems distracted from time to time, it might just be this, particularly when review season comes around. For them, there's way more at stake than you may have realized.