In some relief to H-1B workers, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has given its nod to extend H-1B visas that have expired or are set to expire.
“At the back of the coronavirus crisis, non-immigrants can mitigate immigration consequences such as deportation by applying for an extension of stay or change in status. Further, USCIS continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and many of our forms are available for online filing,” DHS said. The extension also applies to non-immigrant visa holders.
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This development comes at a time when the annual (65,000) visas come up for renewal. This year, however, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, no hiring has happened in the US since January, and this has put H-1B holders at risk if the visas are not renewed or extended.
Visas are extended when holders are unable to find employment and yet need to stay in the country. So, an H-1B holder (whose visa has expired or is about to expire) can change his visa to a B2 tourist visa. Using this route, the person can stay in the country till he finds another employer (who will get him an H-1B visa).
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According to US laws, H-1B workers have a 60-day grace period of unemployment during which they can stay in the country legally. On March 25, BusinessLine had reported on the plight of H-1B holders in the backdrop of Covid-19.
Further, if the 60-day grace period ends without an H-1B renewal, returning home may not be an option, as India has imposed an entry ban on people coming from abroad.
However, industry watchers opine that this development raises many questions and lacks details. “Nowhere does it mention whether the grace period has been extended for a period of time,” said Dan Nandan, New Jersey-based of Hire IT People. Nandan had started a petition calling for an extension of the grace period from 60 to 180 days, considering the extraordinary circumstances.
An employer applies for H-1B visas for “speciality occupations”. The US government processes the requests and dispenses these work visas to “the best and the brightest foreign nationals, giving preference to those holding a master’s or advanced degree (from the US) by including them in the 65,000 annual visa cap.
In the current scenario, what has marginally changed is the fact that a person can apply for a change in visa and based on evidence, DHS will process the person’s application.
Questions such as what happens in the interim (when a person is in the midst of changing a visa are being asked, stated Nandan.
It is estimated that there are around 5.5 lakh visa holders in the US. The development comes a few days after industry body Nasscom requested the Trump administration to extend the validity of H-1B and other visas held by Indian nationals.