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Hiring for International Work

The global employment landscape is very complex. Visa requirements, work authorizations, employment laws, tax regulations, and employee benefits vary by country—and the rules can change with little notice. On this page, you’ll find the information you need to staff your international projects effectively, treat workers fairly, and obey your host country’s laws.

Guide showing students ruins in Rome.

Regardless of the duration, working in another country introduces legal, tax, financial, safety, and logistical factors that can create complications and add expenses.

Global Operation’s international HR director coordinates with you and your unit’s human resources staff to find a solution that works for your project, your budget, and the people you’re seeking to hire.

Be sure to consider your staffing needs early, because the options available to you may require substantial lead time. Plan to allow at least six to eight weeks to complete your HR process.

Key Considerations

Are you planning to pursue an international employment option? In addition to universal hiring concerns like salary, benefits, and management structure, you also need to consider the employment, immigration, and tax laws of the host country.

Cornell is a U.S.-based employer and does not have the ability to employ staff in most countries abroad. The university’s systems cannot process multi-currency payrolls or comply with country-specific employment and tax regulations. There are some exceptions for specific types of work (required on-site research, data collection, etc.) undertaken for short durations, typically six months in aggregate.

Employment Laws

Most countries have employment laws that are more favorable to employees than U.S. laws. Examples include mandated employment contract terms, paid time off, limitations on termination, and severance payments.

Immigration

Individuals must have the correct immigration status and permission to work in the country where they’re physically working. For non-local nationals, this usually involves a work permit sponsored by an employer in the host country.

Taxes

Like the U.S., most countries collect both employee-owed taxes and employer-owed taxes (also known as "social costs" or "payroll taxes"). Globally, employment taxes account for an average 20 percent of an employee's annual salary. Laws regarding an employer’s responsibility to withhold and remit taxes owed by the employee vary by country.

Can We Use a Cornell Employee?

The university has vetted several employment options for the Cornell community. The information provided here is designed to help you understand the global employment landscape, factors to consider when hiring for a project outside the U.S., and how to proceed with each employment option once you identify which option(s) could work for your projects. 

Criteria for Hiring and Staffing Abroad

Cornell only permits employees to work in another country for limited reasons—for example, required on-site research or data collection—and short durations, typically six months in aggregate.

If your hiring needs meet any of the following criteria, you will need to consider one of the five employment options outlined below. None of these can be paid on the Cornell payroll.

  • Current employee on Cornell payroll working in a country other than the U.S. for more than six months or 183 days in aggregate in a 12–month span.
    • Important note: As labor laws become more stringent across the globe, some countries may necessitate a local employer for Cornell employees working in countries less than six months.
  • Short-term employee (employed less than six months) on the Cornell payroll working all or most of the time in a country other than the U.S.
  • U.S. national who will live and work in a foreign country (Expatriate).
  • Non–U.S. national who will work in their home country (Local National)
  • Non–U.S. national who will work in a country that is not their country of citizenship (Third-Country National).

Expats and Nationals: A Few Definitions

Current employee spending majority of time abroad: An individual hired in the U.S. on the Cornell payroll who, foreseen or not, travels to and spends more than half of their time working in a country other than the U.S.

Example: A faculty member takes multiple long trips to Mexico in one year to work on a Cornell program and ends up spending 210 days in Mexico and 155 days in the U.S.

Expatriate (also "expat"): An individual living in a country other than the country of citizenship. For the purposes of the international employment options, this strictly refers to U.S. citizens or permanent residents working for Cornell in a foreign country.

Example: A department seeks to hire a U.S. citizen living and working in Japan for a two-year project.

Local national (also "host country national," "local hire," or "local"): A citizen or permanent resident in the country in which the job is based.

Example: A program seeks to hire a resident of Ghana as a research assistant for a field study in Accra. This person will most likely have a tax identification number (similar to a U.S. Social Security number) and already have authorization to work in Ghana.

Third-country national (TNC): An individual working in a country outside the country of citizenship and the employer’s country of operation (for Cornell, this is the U.S.). For these employees, the laws and treaties of three countries must be considered to determine the relevant labor laws and tax regulations—the person’s home country, the country in which the person is working, and the country in which the employer is based.

Example: A Cornell department wants to hire a Canadian national to work in Qatar for a one-year program.


Hiring and Staffing Abroad

Cornell typically relies on one of these five employment options to staff international projects. The options are based on university policy and guided by host country laws:

  1. Partner with an Established Organization in the Host Country

  2. Hire Through One of Cornell’s Foreign Legal Entities
  3. Contract with a Professional Employer Organization
  4. Use Staff Who Remain on or Join the Cornell Payroll
  5. Use Independent Contractors

The best options for you will depend on the host country, length of your project, the individuals you seek to hire, and your funding source.

Once you review the summaries of each option and implications for your project and budget, please reach out to the key contacts for assistance.

Key Contacts

Cornell requires departments and centers to work closely with their college or unit HR staff, academic affairs, or sponsored programs office for hiring decisions abroad.

Global Operation’s international HR director will work with you and your unit’s human resources staff to consider the relevant country’s regulations, the needs of the program, and the employment costs to determine which option could be a good fit. We also liaise with other departments as needed, including the Office of the University Counsel (OUC), Office for Sponsored Programs (OSP), and the Tax Department.

Please note that hiring an international student, staff, faculty member, or contractor (whether hired in the U.S. or abroad) may pose an export control risk. Please contact exportcontrols@cornell.edu with questions.