May 2011: Volume 37, Number 5
Agencies Try to Make Transition Seamless for Labs
Hiring medical technologists and medical technicians from overseas is nothing new to labs in the U.S., but as the staffing shortage becomes acute, more labs may want to familiarize themselves with the process if they haven’t already.
Although at first glance hiring internationally can seem like a daunting task, recruiting firms that specialize in this area say that their services can make these transactions both affordable and painless. According to Andrew Lingo, marketing director of Passport USA, a division of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based healthcare staffing firm Health Carousel, LLC, hiring overseas can be an economical choice. “It’s an alternative solution to labs that are not able to find high quality lab scientists at a reasonable cost, especially for hard-to-fill areas like night positions. We think it can save about $10 or more per hour compared to traditional domestic contract staffing,” he said. “We’re experts at this, so we can deal with the immigration quagmire instead of the client.” Currently, the company recruits candidates through its wholly-owned offices in the Philippines.
Video and telephone interviews with international candidates can assuage many of the common concerns recruiting labs might have about hiring someone from overseas, such as their experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation or English language proficiency, Lingo emphasized. “Each of our clients interviews the candidates, and they’re not obligated to take anyone. The clients can ask questions about any concern they may have, just like any other interview—they’ll screen for personality fit, ability, motivation, experience, all of those things.”
All of Passport USA’s candidates have been educated in English and must pass a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam that includes both written and oral components. “If a client is concerned about language, they can gain comfort during the interview and from their TOEFL scores, but it’s not going to be exactly the same as a domestic candidate of course,” Lingo said. When it comes to professional certifications or state licensure, these matters are taken care of in advance as well, before the candidate even begins the immigration process. Passport USA even makes sure they have an international driver’s license and access to a car upon arrival. “We invest a lot into our candidates to make their transition as smooth as possible, including funding their airfare, providing a stipend for living expenses, making sure that they have satisfactory housing, a social security number, everything to get them started in the U.S. We don’t just leave them to figure things out on their own, and we know that many of our clients don’t have the bandwidth to handle international arrivals,” he said.
Passport USA affords two basic options for hiring, directly or on a contract or temp-to-perm basis, with fees to the agency covering all costs, including immigration costs. “As a licensed agency of the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), we’re not allowed to collect fees from candidates for our services: quite the opposite, with a quality candidate, if they don’t have money for a TOEFL or ASCP exam, for example, we’ll assist with funding exam costs after assessing the candidate,” Lingo said. In a direct hire, the fee is based on a negotiated percentage of first year salary and bonuses plus immigration costs ranging from $3,500 to $5,000 dollars. In a temp-to-perm hire, the immigration expenses are built into the hourly rate that the agency charges for the medical technologist’s services.
How quickly an international employee can immigrate and begin work depends on the time of year, due to the way the U.S. government processes visas. In the fall, for a non-licensure state, it takes about 8-12 weeks upon selection before the candidate arrives. If selecting a candidate in the spring, this timeframe can expand to up to 6 months. Employers also need to add about a month of extra time if the candidate needs to obtain an additional state license, although many already carry one or more licenses.
In both direct placements and contract employment, the agency works to find and support candidates who are looking to make a long-term commitment to their laboratory employers, Lingo emphasized. It’s for this reason that the agency invests so much time and money in candidates to ensure a lasting transition to their new employer. “There is a significant dollar investment that we make in each of these individuals for visa processing and later on, a green card. Our goal is that we provide our clients with really good quality candidates who are a good match for their needs and then support them so that they stay at their new employers for a number of years,” he said.
Toward this goal, Lingo’s firm helps new employees from overseas to bring their families to the U.S. and set up a new home. In most cases, the candidate will work at the lab for about 3 months before his or her family arrives, allowing time to acclimate to the new job. “The fact that they’re bringing over their family, enrolling children in the schools, and really setting up roots in the community, shows that they’re looking at this as a new home and are committed to their employers for the long-term,” he said.