International Staffing Options
Harvard programs typically rely on one of the six options outlined below to staff their international projects. For each option, it’s important to consider the potential budget implications beyond the salary or payment provided to the employee or contractor.
Not all options may be available to you and your project. We’ll work with you and your local Human Resource or Academic Affairs Office to consider the host country regulations, the needs of your program, and the staffing costs to determine which option could be a good fit. You can also download our quick guide to international staffing options.
Option 1: Partner with an established organization in the host country
Working with a local partner to employ local staff — and in some cases U.S. expats or third-country nationals (TCNs) — can be significantly simpler than hiring staff directly. A local partner can be an in-country university or non-governmental organization (NGO), among others. In this arrangement, the staff are employees of the local organization, and the administrative requirements associated with their employment are the responsibility of the local organization. Considering this option early on can make it easier to fold staff into services provided by existing subcontractors or local service providers, and correctly set expectations for employees.
Option 2: Hire via Harvard Global Research and Support Services, Inc.
Harvard Global Research and Support Services, Inc., also known as Harvard Global or "HG", is a Harvard-affiliated non-profit legal entity that provides international office administration and employment and payroll services. We work closely with HG and can help determine if it's an option. HG can provide employment services in the following scenarios:
Tier I: In a country where HG is not legally established
HG’s ability to employ staff is limited, but sometimes there are special provisions that allow them to offer this service. For example, they may be able to hire U.S. expats and TCNs paid from federally-funded projects if a bi-lateral agreement allowing employment exists between the government of the host country and the U.S. In these scenarios, HG cannot provide visa sponsorship, so the program must source a local partner for sponsorship.
Tier II: In a country where HG is legally established or has jurisdiction to operate
HG can likely add staff to their existing payroll in that country. Staff can include U.S. expats, third-country nationals, and local nationals. In certain scenarios, HG may be able to provide visa sponsorship.
If a program will span several years and need office or lab space in addition to employment and payroll services, it may be suitable for HG to register and provide your program with both services. See where Harvard Global operates for a list of ongoing operations and operations in development.
Option 3: Leverage an existing Harvard entity
In countries where there is an existing Harvard-affiliated office, that office may be able to employ staff for your project. In some cases, they also may be able to provide office space. The suitability of this option depends on the specific job duties, the way in which the office was originally formed (for example, some offices have a scope that is legally limited to particular types of work), and the ability of the department that runs the affiliated office to absorb the administrative burden of additional employees on their payroll. We maintain relationships with Harvard's overseas entities and can help assess this option.
Option 4: Contract with a professional employer organization
A professional employer organization (PEO) provides employment services, including human resource and payroll services, similar to a temporary staffing agency.
This is an option when a small number of employees are needed in a specific location for a limited period of time. In this model, the individuals would be employed by the PEO and “leased” to the program. The PEO is responsible for all employment law, tax, and and reporting requirements. However, because Harvard may share liability if the PEO fails to comply with the law, such relationships must be closely monitored. We manage the University’s relationship with several global PEO firms and can guide you through this option if it’s right for your program.
Option 5: Frequent travel by U.S.-based staff
If full-time in-country staffing is not needed, then frequent travel by U.S.-based staff may be a good solution that avoids many of the complications of employing someone based in the foreign location. This is only an option is the employee is a resident of Massachusetts for at least six months per year.
Combining this option with another option can also be a good solution. For example, local nationals could be hired through a subcontract with a local partner (option 1), and then U.S.-based Harvard staff could travel to train the local nationals and provide oversight. As long as employees spend more than six months of the year in the U.S., they will usually be considered based in the U.S. and can be paid via the Harvard payroll.
Option 6: Engage as an independent contractor
Enlisting the services of an independent contractor (IC) can be more straightforward than hiring employees, but every country has different rules about the distinction between contractors and employees. It's important to work through local HR processes regarding IC classifications.
In most countries, a worker is assumed to be an employee unless he or she qualifies as an IC by meeting certain criteria. The criteria vary, but the following qualities tend to be universally important to an IC determination:
- Duration of assignment
- Percentage of time spent on the Harvard project
- Control over how, when, and where the work is done
- A business of doing similar work for clients other than Harvard and also as a contractor
- Use of own offices or facilities and equipment
- Payment of own business expenses
- Compensation based solely on services rendered (e.g. no vacation pay or employer-sponsored benefits like health insurance)
Some countries require ICs to register as businesses and/or collect a service tax or value-added tax (VAT) from their customers (e.g. Harvard). Harvard leaves these matters to the responsibility of the IC. A few countries apply obligations (e.g. tax withholding) even to those institutions engaging ICs.