Why Biopharma Companies Avoid Hiring People Who Need Visas

Collage of globe, plane and airline tickets

Pictured: Collage of the globe, a plane and airline tickets/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

While STEM professionals born in other countries can bring talent, diversity and commitment to the biopharma workforce, some organizations are reluctant to hire those who require visas, according to two recruitment experts. They cited unfamiliarity with the visa process as the biggest reason for this reluctance. Most temporary work visas require employer sponsorship, and not all employers know how to navigate the process. 

The smaller or newer the company, the less likely it is to hire employees who need visas, said Greg Clouse, recruitment manager at BioSpace. He noted that bigger employers like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Amgen are more likely to employ these candidates because they understand the visa process and have navigated it before. 

Clouse shared an example of a relatively new pharmaceutical manufacturer that BioSpace is working with that doesn’t want to sponsor anyone. 

“I don’t think it has anything to do with their expectations of the candidate or work ethic or cultural differences or communication issues,” he said. “It’s none of that stuff. They just don’t know how to do it, so they just don’t want to do it.” 

Leslie Loveless agreed that smaller companies are more reluctant. Loveless is CEO and managing partner of Slone Partners, a life sciences and healthcare executive search firm that works largely with early- and growth-stage companies. 

“When you start talking about companies that are small to midsize, they don't have the same experience in-house,” she told BioSpace. “They don’t have the same track record of sponsoring visas. And I think at times, frankly, it probably feels a little overwhelming when you're already resource constrained to say, ‘OK we’re going to take this on.’” 

She noted that when her firm asks clients if they’re open to visa sponsorships, the answer is typically “We would prefer not to do that. But, if you find someone great that you really think that we need to talk to, then let’s have that conversation.” 

Clouse and Loveless’ take on this biopharma hiring topic aligns with a recent BioSpace poll on LinkedIn. It found that 59% of companies are somewhat or very unlikely to hire people who require visas to work in the United States. 

LinkedIn poll about biopharma hiring

Pictured: LinkedIn poll showing likeliness of biopharma companies hiring people who need visas

Who’s Trying to Get Hired

Many job candidates who need work visas are students trying to get their first position or postdocs trying to move out of academia and into industry, according to Clouse. He noted that they aren’t typically coming from another country. Rather, they’re already in the U.S. on a temporary visa.  

For example, job candidates might have an H-1B temporary work visa that needs to be transferred from one employer to another or an F-1 student visa that needs to be converted to an H-1B. STEM professionals often use H-1B visas, as they’re intended for specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge.  

Students don’t always get hired right away. Loveless noted that job candidates frequently extend their time in academia because they can’t find an employer who’ll sponsor their visa.  

As Clouse explained, for job candidates in today’s competitive market, a work visa can be a hurdle to employment. 

 “There’s a lot of those people that just don’t get interviews because they need sponsorship,” he said. 

The Cost of Sponsorship

Visa sponsorship can cost employers thousands of dollars, including filing fees, which increased April 1 for many employment-based visas. For example, as per the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) final rule, the H1-B filing fee went up from $460 to $780—a 70% increase—unless the organization is a nonprofit or a small employer with 25 or fewer full-time equivalent employees, in which case the fee did not rise.  

The H1-B registration process fee has also gone up. Beginning with the March 2025 registration period, it’s increasing from $10 to $215, an increase of 2,050%. 

That said, Clouse doesn’t think cost is the reason for some companies’ reluctance to hire people who need visas, and Loveless said it’s not a major issue.  

She explained, “I think the cost is less of an issue than just the time and the anxiety that can go along with ‘How long is this going to take? And what if it doesn’t get approved? And then we’ve lost all this time, and we still don’t have our position filled.’”  

Loveless also noted that in the grand scheme of things, when companies hire someone who’ll be valuable to their organization, the sponsorship cost is not a massive expense in relative terms.  

The Preference for Local Candidates

In addition to unfamiliarity with the visa process, another reason some employers avoid hiring employees who need visas is the preference for local job candidates, according to Clouse and Loveless. Both pointed to timing issues.  

Clouse said, “So, if you work across town and I hire you, you can quit and be here in two, three weeks. You work across the country and I hire you, you can quit and be here in a month or two. You work in a different country, who knows how long that’s going to take.” 

Loveless shared that when she asks clients about their candidate search timelines, 90% of the time they say, “Yesterday or a month ago is when I needed this person.” 

“So, when you factor that into everything they’re thinking about, then the visa sponsorship becomes even a bigger challenge for them,” she said. 

Missing Out on Talented, Diverse, Committed Employees

Companies that don’t hire job candidates who require visas are missing out on three key benefits, according to Clouse and Loveless: a wider pool of talent, a more diverse workforce and committed employees. 

Regarding the wider talent pool, Clouse noted, “If you really just want the best candidate available, the larger region you can look in, the better chance you have of having that A-plus candidate.” 

Loveless agreed. 

“Despite the fact that the talent market is not as tight as it was a couple of years ago, for great talent, it is still tight,” she said. 

The wider candidate pool also benefits employers because it can help them have more diverse workforces from a cultural, racial and gender perspective, according to Clouse and Loveless. 

When it comes to commitment, Loveless noted that organizations who sponsor employees get a level of commitment they might not see from their typical American candidate. She said these professionals are loyal to the companies sponsoring them and don’t want to put their sponsorship status at risk and have to get another sponsorship.  

“With individuals that join your company on a visa, while there are some challenges that come with that, I think there are other challenges that that solves for the company in terms of just the commitment to the organization and staying with them for what is a longer period of time than you might see from someone that is not in that situation of being on a visa,” she said. 

Angela Gabriel is content manager, life sciences careers, at BioSpace. You can reach her at angela.gabriel@biospace.com and follow her on LinkedIn

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