To say that the H1-B visa holders are going through a turbulent period during the COVID-19 crisis would be a massive understatement. Multiple conflicting reports from all over the United States have not served to allay their fears. However, the latest announcements have helped them see some light at the end of the tunnel after all.
The consistently hard-line stance of the Trump administration on immigrant and foreign-born workers had already put many foreign nationals residing in the country at unease. A recent press release on the 22nd of April proclaimed some very extensive carve-outs, such as the visa expiring in 60 days, only added to the confusion. However, after much cries for consideration, there is some relief for the H1-B holders in the US who were running pillar to post to maintain their legal status in the US.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have announced today that it will provide a 60 day grace period to the professionals and immigrants from countries like India and China, along with Green card applicants who have been served notices for submission of various documents, taking into account various factors.
The H1-B visa is primarily a non-immigrant visa that permits US companies to employ foreign workers in occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The report also adds that responding to its requests will include requests for evidence; continuations to request evidence (N-14); notices of intent to deny; notices of intent to revoke; notices of intent to rescind and notices of intent to terminate regional investment centres; and filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.
Furthermore, the USCIS will consider a Form I-290B received up to 60 calendar days from the date of the decision before it takes any action. The notices will surely have eased the concerns of the 200,000 H1-B visa holders, which were otherwise staring at unprecedented unemployment possibilities. There was also cause for concern for addressing the complication which arose if they received a reduction in wages or worked from home, both of which would have been a violation of the visa requirements in the country.
Several analysts had already moved to label the developing situation as a human and economic catastrophe if they continue to persist. And they are not far from their mark too, it would seem. More than two-thirds of the H1-B Visa holders in the US are believed to be Indians, mostly employed in the tech sector. Many of these have families that are completely dependent on them, several facing student loan payoffs in huge numbers with the scenario that has emerged. Several tech giants and lawyers have also lobbied to the USCIS for extending care packages and policies and not leave those who contribute with high tax donations as illegally stranded.
The situation is certainly as dire as it can get with 26 million Americans already filing for unemployment as per the latest data. Lawmakers have also advised stopping commissioning work visas with a priority to give American nationals a chance at employment first. USCIS has assured it is adopting several measures to protect the workforce and suffering communities and to minimize the immigration consequences for those seeking immigration benefits during this time. As much as America (and the rest of the world) is fighting for survival, it has certainly put the American dream of these people on the ropes.
It is worth noting that the United States is currently the worst hit with the pandemic already claiming upwards of 65,000 lives with 1,131,492 infected patients. In the light of the recent considerations by the Oval Office, hope is on the horizon as yet. Stay tuned to this space for the latest developments.