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Advising Clients in the H1-B Visa Program: a Valuable Niche

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Every year, businesses across the country avail themselves of the congressionally mandated H1-B visa program to employ workers from other countries. A large majority of these people are graduates of U.S. universities who possess the skills that are highly valued to U.S. companies, and, sponsored by their employers, many visa holders choose the path toward permanent residency and then citizenship.

That process, however, could take many years, says Michael Solari, founder of Solari Financial Planning, particularly for people born in countries like India, China and the Philippines, where quotas get filled up quickly and there is a serious processing backlog. But for these people and many other H1-B visa holders, planning for their financial futures as U.S. citizens is a top priority and one they are keen to work toward with a trusted financial advisor.

Solari works with a number of clients on H1-B visas who have come to him by word-of-mouth referrals, he says, and in working with them, he’s realized that there are not many financial planners who work in their space. But given that the H1-B visa quota fills up very quickly every year (this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the quota for allotted H1-B visas for fiscal year 2017 was reached on April 6), advisors may want to consider this client niche.

“A lot of advisors have a certain, fixed model that people have to fit into, but you have to be flexible and realize that you have to work with different kinds of people in different kinds of situations and create a service model for them,” Solari says.

Solari believes the greatest draw his practice offers to people on H1-B visas is that it is a fee-only business and has been that way since he launched his firm in 2013.

“When you hire an advisor you want to be able to alleviate the stress of planning your finances alone and you also want to know you can build a trusted relationship with someone who will be completely objective,” he says.

The fee-only model enables this kind of trusted relationship to take root and it’s particularly important to holders of work visas who, though they may be well on the road toward permanent residency, are never quite sure they will become residents until the day they actually get their green card approval notice.

The length of time it takes to become a permanent resident first and then a citizen after that affects how much they will have in assets under management here in the U.S., what sort of estate planning they should be doing, what sort of life insurance policies they should take out and all sorts of other “layers” that they need to plan around, Solari says, in case they have to leave the country.

Many of these people also work in sectors – specialized technology, for instance — that are highly volatile and where there’s a large turnover. Holding onto a job is a key priority, he says, because finding a new employer to sponsor a work visa and then a green card is not that easy. That’s why H1-B work visa holders appreciate alleviating the stress of financial planning by hiring an advisor who charges a one-time fee and that one-time fee is also ideal to the advisor working with clients who, until they get their permanent residency authorization, are more or less living a one-foot-out-the-door life in the U.S.

As he works with more clients in this situation, Solari is learning to tailor his practice around them in different ways, including working around their often onerous and intense work schedules, so that he’s available to them late in the night or early in the morning, and familiarizing himself with their different cultural backgrounds, which is extremely important to him.

“When a client is from overseas, it’s important to spend more time upfront in getting to know them and having them get to know me,” he says. “If the person is close by, we’ll meet in person, or I do Google hangouts or Skype sessions to get the lay of the land, the plan of attack. I make it a point to talk as early as possible about their top concerns.”

And of course, catering to clients coming from different parts of the world means being well versed in investment opportunities across the globe and how they can impact a particular client’s portfolio. It’s only normal, Solari says, that someone from India or the Philippines will be looking at investment opportunities in those countries, particularly because they’re such fast growing economies, and to the extent that he can, Solari will research investment ideas that his clients bring to him.

Ultimately, though, “I aim for a collaboration between myself and the client, which means I’m going to take the relationship to where they want to go,” he says. “Some investment ideas may be out of my realm, but what I can do is look at the financial plan as a whole and see how a particular investment will work in the plan, if it enhances it or whether it will derail it.”


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