Employers in highly technical fields in which it is difficult to find qualified applicants sometimes sponsor immigrant workers and help them secure work visas and eventual “green card” status as permanent resident aliens.
When those visas are set to expire and it appears the employee may not be able to renew the work authorization, employers aren’t discriminating on the basis of national origin if they elect to terminate the employee.
Recent case: Lixin Liu, a Chinese national, came to the United States on a student visa and was eventually hired as an associate scientist for BASF Plant Science.
The company sponsored him on a temporary work visa. Immigrants on such visas must follow strict rules for renewing them, including getting their applications in one year before the expected expiration. Liu didn’t sign his renewal paperwork in time.
Then the company decided to move operations out of state. Because Liu’s visa would expire shortly after the relocation, BASF decided to terminate him before the move.
Liu sued, alleging the company had fired him because he was a Chinese national.
The court disagreed, concluding he had lost his job because he didn’t follow the immigration rules. The company was free to consider his immigration status when deciding whom to transfer. (Liu v. BASF Plant Science, No. 09-1850, 8th Cir., 2011)
Final note: Liu’s case was also hurt by the fact that several other Chinese nationals who managed to renew and maintain valid visas were relocated.