If everything went according to plan after Part One, Obtaining a B1 Domestic Worker Visa, then congratulations! It’s time to board the airplane! Although that’s cause for celebration, as it turns out, getting the visa will probably be the most easy part of the process. It’s not as though the rest of what’s to follow is hard per se, but in our experience, there was very little guidance on what the steps were, and what the sequence of the steps should be.
So the outline below is meant to serve as a bit of a road map to how to think through the various aspects of processing once you arrive stateside. In our case, we ended up not knowing about a key part (the USCIS portion) which threw some of the other aspects into total confusion. Ultimately, we got to where we needed to be, but I’m hoping that the outline below can spare you a few hours of grief somewhere along the way. Again, the steps aren’t difficult, but they are tedious, so be sure to budget some pockets of time for getting through the list, as well as keep a bit of extra sanity on the side. In the end, we would definitely do it all over again, it was worth it for us. But I’m definitely looking forward to it being easier next time around!
For those who have also been through this process, please feel free to add your own learnings and best practices to the comments below. I can only go by our own “n of 1” experience, but I’m sure others would love to learn from you as well – I know I would!
I. INTRODUCTORY NOTE
As mentioned before, be sure you are clarifying through out processing that the visa in question in a B1 Domestic Worker visa. Many times at the agencies below, people will hear “B1” and stop listening. But simply a B1 visa is a tourist visa on which one can not work which will lead to confusion. So if you find that you’re getting answers that are wrong, it’s important to clarify (and re-clarify) the correct type of visa. Although you’d think that these agencies have seen this visa before, the truth is that it’s not all that common, so often times you’ll find that you need to refresh the basics of the case to get to the right answer.
II. DOCUMENTS FOR TRAVEL AND ENTRY INTO THE US
All aboard! Whether you travel together, or most likely, separately into the US, it is important that your nanny be prepared. Again, see note above – this is a rare situation, and you want for your nanny to be able to enter with all that she (or he) needs in an organized and confident fashion.
For travel, you’ll want to make sure that your nanny has:
- Cover letter from you stating:
- Name of nanny and that she will be in your employ from time X to time Y while residing with you (or in a place that you designate for her; give address)
- Clarification that your role is Z and you are returning to the US for a temporary amount of time (until time ABC)
- Contact information for you and spouse/partner if you have one, including:
- Work telephone
- Mobile telephone
- Work address
- Copy of her contract
- The supporting documentation from the visa application process
Our own nanny entered throughout her US tenure several times on her her own, and honestly, immigration and other officials were nothing but friendly. The only time we had an issue was while she was transiting through Canada where there was some secondary questioning on the Canadian side. In the end, they did call us to corroborate her story and visa case, which we did, but it was good that she had all the materials with her to help explain. This is doubly true for any nanny for whom English might not be their native language.
We prepared the documents for her in separate folders: letter, contract, and supporting information folder with tabs. However, one reader in Part One of this series noted that they prepared their nanny for the visa interview with a color coded binder, and I think I’d do something similar if I had to do it again.
Whichever route you choose, just make sure not to hand your nanny a jumble of papers while simultaneously wishing her “bon voyage” as you run off to the airport. Choose an unhurried time before departure (and maybe even two times) to review the documents, to walk her through what to expect through arrivals, what kind of questions there might be etc. Again, it’s not at all difficult, but coming into the US, especially for the first time, can be perceived as a little intimidating and it needn’t be if your ducks are in a row.
III. DOCUMENT CHECK UPON ARRIVAL
Once your nanny arrives, the key thing will be for you to review with her the stamps in the passport. Chances are, your nanny was issued a multiple entry visa for several years back at your post – in our case, it was for four years. But then it is up to the immigration officer to stamp in how long they can be in the US for this particular visit. In our case, that was not four years, but one year. They will still have the visa for whatever amount of time, but it just means that they will have to leave and return. In most cases, that departure can be a home leave – however, if that’s not possible for whatever reason, you might have to think through alternatives. In any case, it’s good for you to review when those timelines are so that both you and your nanny can plan accordingly from a coverage, travel, and cost perspective. Overstaying, even if accidentally, will be a headache for everyone involved.
One thing that is very critical is that the passport remain with in your nanny’s possession at all times – as an employer, you’re not allowed to hold on to it for her. However, we found it worked well to make several sets of photocopies and scans of the key passport pages, visa page, and stamp page, so that both you and nanny can have paper and electronic copies for various processing needs. If you started a binder for the arrival, you can add copies there, plus add copies of all the documentation that comes out of the steps below.
IV. USCIS PROCESSING
As mentioned above, this step was the one that somehow we didn’t find out about until deep into our process; yet many of the steps below are contingent upon this getting done and the numbers/identification that comes out of it. So sequencing this first is key. That being said, the process itself can take a long time depending on how much volume they are working through, so as you go through it keep copies of the forms and email submission time stamps etc so that you can at least always show that you are “in process” .
Holders of a B1 Domestic Worker Visa’s need to apply for Employment Authorization. As defined by USCIS, a B1 Domestic Worker Visa holder will need to prove that:
- You have a residence abroad in which you have no intention of abandoning
- You have at least 1 year of experience as a personal or domestic servant
- You have been employed abroad by your employer for at least 1 year prior to the employer’s admission into the United States or if you have been employed abroad by the employer for less than 1 year, the employer must show that while abroad, he or she has regularly employed a domestic servant in the same capacity as that intended for your employment.
The good news is that you already have pretty much all of this information from the visa application process. For each of the bullets, we helped draft a separate, brief letter which our nanny approved and signed. And they might ask you prove that you as the employer are returning only temporarily, so we drafted a clarification letter (effectively similar to the one that she came in with in her arrival packet) along with a copy of my husbands cable orders back to the US clarifying that the posting is temporary, and we will be reposted to a location later determined as is custom with employment at the State Department.
You (your nanny) will also need to complete the I-765 application for the actual authorization. The processing for this is $380 (which you will likely have to pay for them). I’m not sure if this is still the case, but for us, the authorizations were only given for six month increments (with the fee to pay each time) so we were basically in perpetual process with this. By the time the authorization arrived, it was time to start thinking about renewal. As stated above, just keep a paper trail that can show where you are in the process if need be, and budget for the fees accordingly.
V. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Once you have an EAP (employment authorization), you can now go about applying for a social security number (SSN). Again, very key to sequence this after you receive the EAP card and numbers since otherwise, you will (as we did) spend many fruitless hours at your local social security office.
To apply for an SSN, you need to:
- Locate your closest Social Security Office – try to go early (at opening) and budget a while for this if you are visiting an office in a major metropolitan area
- Fill out the SSN application
- Bring the requisite accompanying documentation (NB: make sure you are looking in the left hand column to verify you’ve chosen the requirements for an Adult, Non-Citizen, Original Card application)
VI. PAYROLL SET UP
Chances are, you will need to start paying your nanny well before all of these documents come through. The first thing to make this happen is to make sure your nanny sets up her own bank account that you do not have access to as an owner (obviously, you’ll need to know what it is so that you can route payments there). You’ll likely need to go with them to the bank to assist, but you yourself can not have ownership to the account (essentially, to protect the employee). Cash payments are a no-no as part of the terms of the visa.
Depending on your relationship with your nanny, this might also be a good time to have a conversation about finances/savings/advances while in the US. I know it’s sometimes been the experience of some that their nannies are often working to mostly support family back in their home locations, so there is a tendency to send entire paychecks without leaving enough cushion for themselves should something arise. It might be something that you address as part of the broader benefits package discussion. You will mostly likely have had this discussion prior to arrival when reviewing the contract, but I found that it was helpful to revisit upon arrival to make sure everything was clear.
If you use a payroll provider (see below for suggestions in the providers section), be sure to clarify how the payroll process works: whether they will log hours or you will; what the pay periods are and when pay is processed and when it can expect to hit their account. We found that often times, there was some confusion around this. Our provider paid twice a month, but there was a week delay until the pay was received. So for example, if the pay period was from the 1st to the 14th, the hours were logged on the 14th but the pay delivered in their account on the 21st. We often had to revisit this concept, especially if there had been a long break/vacation of some kind. In the end, the system that worked well for us is to have a wall calendar with the pay days clearly marked on there so that there was no confusion as to when pay days actually were and what time frame they covered.
VII. TAX PROCESSING
Ah taxes…what can you say, you have to pay them. There are basically three big buckets of taxes to consider:
- The taxes your nanny will have to pay as an employee (i.e. standard withholdings)
- The taxes you will have to pay for your nanny as an employer
- The taxes you will likely have to pay yourself for being an employer (i.e. how does it affect your own personal returns)
If you want to tackle doing this yourself, the IRS Household Employer Tax Guide is a good reference (actually, even if you have help with tax and payroll, it’s a good reference to have on hand.)
You will have to set yourself up as an employer before you can file taxes at both the Federal (EIN) and state level (see your own state’s guidance for this process). If you end up choosing a full service provider (see below), they can help you establish both of these.
In addition, make sure that you are keeping track of any expenses that you are incurring or benefits cost you are incurring (e.g. if you pay their full health insurance for example), as that might be relevant when preparing your own taxes individually for credits or write-offs etc.
VIII. USING A TAX & PAYROLL PROVIDER
You can certainly do the tax and payroll processing yourself. However, based on our own experience, I would strongly consider using a full service provider – i.e. keep tax and payroll under one roof so that the paperwork can be accessed at any time. It won’t always be perfect, and it won’t mean that there is “no work” for you (regardless of what the provider tells you). But the fact of the matter is, these situations can get complicated, and it is extremely helpful to have both a partner and a paper trail to show that you are making every effort to dot i’s and cross t’s in case you should ever have to explain anything, go through a security clearance, go through an audit etc. Effectively paying the fees for a service provider makes the payroll and tax deductions portion much easier, but it is also a bit of an insurance policy that there is another set of eyes on all the processing that specializes in these things.
Additionally, if you are living in the actual District of Columbia, it can be particularly difficult to get some of these things done or payments recognized. It is not uncommon to have errors in processing or payment amounts (and not necessarily your errors – I think in our two years in DC we had three instances of confusion with DC). That is when this type of partnership will be most valuable since they will be the ones to have to assist with the persistent follow up. And having been there, it really is a LOT of follow up to try to get something corrected with DC.
Depending on what level of service you choose from a provider, they can assist with different things. Our own experience was to go with the full level of service from HomeWork Solutions, whom we chose because they had some level of familiarity with our nanny’s visa when we were having trouble processing her SSN. However, they weren’t so familiar with it so as to inform me that we had to process USCIS first (at the time anyway). Which is to say that ultimately, whatever provider you choose is a partner to you in this, but they are not necessarily an immigration expert, and definitely not a miracle worker. Often times, you’ll have to get to the right answer together in tandem, so a little patience and a little cooperation will go far.
I have heard that others have used Breedlove/Care.com with success lately as well which could be a viable alternative.
In addition, the following would be good to keep an eye out for when working with a full service provider:
- Most of these services are expanding into offering more tax services, which is great. However, keep in mind that most of these business were built on an original core strength of payroll processing – they will sometimes not be able to provide more strategic or more complicated advice based on unique tax situations. As above, you’ll have to work to solve those problems together or look into further outside help.
- At times the service provider is in a unique position because they work on the payroll and taxes on behalf of your nanny as the employee, but also on your behalf as the employer. And ultimately, if you have complex tax situations, it might be helpful for you to ensure that someone is looking out with an eye for only you. Again, these things can get complicated and another set of expert eyes to advocate on your behalf can be helpful. In our case, our own tax provider was able to spot a few inconsistencies that could have really become big problems.
- When you set up all of your tax paperwork (either solo or through your provider) be sure that you’re consistent in names used. For example, if you are married filing jointly, and you file under your name or your spouse’s name and SSN, be sure to set up your tax identities in that same name and SSN. Otherwise, it will look like you have a tax discrepancy even though you have paid the right amount.
- For us, because the processing for our nanny took so long, we set up all of her paperwork with the initial number of 000-00-000 and then changed things over once the SSN was in place. If you go that route, try to make that change before the end of the calendar year in which you arrive, it will spare you a ton of grief and paperwork later.
- Be sure to clarify with your provider what the policies are for overtime and bonus processing for your state or their standard. In DC, for example, overtime for someone receiving room and board (which your nanny is receiving by definition of the visa she has to work for you), is of course paid, but not paid at time and a half. This provision varies by state but has significant financial implications. Bonuses for holidays, end of year, etc are also processed through them and as all bonuses, taxed at a different rate so be sure to factor that in – be clear on how taxes and/or their fees affect what’s coming out of your pocket and also what will be going into your nanny’s pocket, so that there is no confusion on either side. You’ll be the one on the hook for explaining this to your nanny, who will wonder where nearly of half her bonus went.
- As with anything, check, check, check and double check. There is a lot of processing, and in the end, mistakes do happen. Keep a closer eye on things if there have been any kinds of longer vacations, or holidays, or turnover with whomever is handling your accounts. Double check that pay issued lines up with hours worked. Keep a close eye on things the year that you depart for your next post – most likely, you will have had a half year in the US so just be sure that when you file for that year, which will occur much later, that things are correct. At the end of the day, no one will look out for your own interests as well as you will.
IX. HEALTH INSURANCE
There seems to be some confusion as to whether health insurance does or does not have to provided by you. Despite the ACA, given that household employers are employers of less than 50, my understanding is that technically you do not… as part of ACA. BUT… you might have had to depending on the country where your nanny applied for a visa from. For example, this lawyer in Bangkok says you do for Thai maids/nannies. The embassy in Venezuela does require that you show that you will provide insurance or commit to paying expenses if you don’t. And in Qatar, you need to specify in the contract as part of the visa process that you won’t deduct any cost for medical care or medical insurance coverage from the domestic’s earnings. Then again, many embassies don’t outline any medical insurance requirements in their B1 Domestic Worker visa process at all. There does not seem to be a unified, single policy statement on it (or at least, I haven’t found one) in terms of what you as an employer needs to provide; however, as part of the ACA the employee needs to have something in place in terms of insurance (or pay a tax penalty).
That being said, my own opinion is that you should provide health insurance, no question. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. And second, realistically speaking, should something medical happen, mostly likely you will be the one on the hook for the expenses anyway, so in the end it’s in everyone’s interest to have coverage for medical situations, and it’s more peace of mind all around.
The bigger question is how to provide it. Candidly, none of the exchanges were yet open while we were in the US with our nanny so I can’t speak from experience as to whether those are an option. In initial research, it seems like those with an EAP could apply to purchase on the health care exchanges (or at least could in some states). That being said, when I played around with the system for the parameters for our own nanny, it would have been significantly more costly, although it looks like there are some tax credits in place to help offset that.
We used the NRIOL system , which is a consolidator of temporary plan providers for those visiting or working in the US, and picked a plan based on what our nanny’s estimated needs were. A couple of things about this process:
- Nearly all the plans are provided for up to a year (after which you would renew or “re bid”), and most are pre-paid upfront.
- The plans offered varying levels of coverage so it’s worth getting a sense of how your nanny might use the plan or how often she might have gotten care in the past etc so that you can choose the right set up.
- As always, be sure you’re aware how any urgent care, specialist coverage, deductibles etc work – many of these plans are not as comprehensive as a plan for a citizen through a traditional employer would be, so it’s important to investigate where the differences are.
- Note that many plans don’t cover the big, expensive things like maternity care or long-term care for severe illnesses.
- Note that there are key places in the age curve where premiums go up substantially. If you have an older nanny, especially if they might have landmark birthdays that affect the premiums for the following year, factor that into your budget.
Most likely, the US health insurance and medical system will be quite new for your nanny. Things like cost sharing in the way that you might do with your own employer might be confusing. You’ll likely have to pick up the full premium. Overall, I found that a good stress test for all of this was to ask myself what if I were to get sick or injured far away from my own home? What kind of coverage would I want or need? Then, choose accordingly.
As a side note, we never found a dental insurance provider, but we did offer dental cleanings, to be paid for out of pocket, in the spirit of an ounce of prevention being worth more than a gazillion dollars of cure…I believe you can purchase dental and vision insurance plans now through the healthcare exchanges.
Additional reading which could be helpful :
- Household Employees and the ACA
- Health Insurance Tax Credits for Employers
- How to set up Health Insurance for a Nanny
That wraps up the key processes to go through upon arriving stateside. Don’t be put off by the length of this post – knowing the process and sequence I think is half the battle (or at least, it ended up being for us). There’s more to arriving in the US than just the paperwork though! Next week I’ll cover a few of the other things outside of just process that you can do to help smooth the transition to working in the US for your nanny.
Also, given the interest that many expressed in special situations (traveling onward to another post with nanny, bringing nannies on vacations etc), I’ll tack on one more post to this series to try to cover some of those answers as well!
Author’s Note: Please be advised that this series is meant to shed some light on the process of bringing a domestic helper back with you from post or other foreign assignment as part of the B1 Domestic Worker Visa program. This is not official, legal, or immigration guidance. As always, please check with your local consular section, federal regulations and official state laws related to domestic employment for the most updated information and requirements.
Map image by Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash.