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Lapsing of H-1B visas makes techies jittery

Indians currently in the United States on H1-B visas could face some testing times in the next few weeks. For several,the H1-B visas have lapsed or are likely to do so soon.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 12.04 PM IST
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Indians currently in the United States on H1-B visas could face some testing times in the next few weeks. For several,the H1-B visas have lapsed or are likely to do so soon. They are in a peculiar situation, as the current ban on all incoming flights to India for two more weeks means they cannot return, in the process becoming illegal immigrants in the United States once their visas expire.

Several immigration lawyers are working with people whose visa status have changed in the last few weeks. “It is a very unfortunate situation for them. Their visas are over or denied and they cannot leave the US. They cannot work and they are accruing unlawful time. Their whole life is on hold,” said Nandini Nair, an immigration attorney at law firm Greenspoon Marder. The bigger challenge, however, is if H-1B visa holders are fired.

Normally, they have a 60-day grace period in which to find another job. But,practically no one is hiring in the current environment. Certain IT groups are lobbying to extend this to 180 days, but it is anybody’s guess whether that will be approved. “Most H-1B workers are from India and cannot travel home with children who are US citizens as many nations announced an entry ban, including India. H-1B workers cater to the economy at large, mainly supporting the IT Industry with high tax contributions,”according to a petition by recruitment firm Hire IT People, to the White House.

Indian nationals account for nearly two-thirds of H-1B visa holders in the US. Since Donald Trump took over as US President, American technology firms have been favoured for the coveted work permits over Indian IT services firms. “We have come across a few cases where people have lost their visa status and are advising them to apply for a B-1/B2 tourist visa which gets them six more months in the country legally,” said Matthew Maiona, immigration attorney at Maiona Ward.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is currently being flexible on several visa and immigration requirements, but has not specifically addressed the issue of what happens when a worker on an H-1B is laid off. Given the unprecedented situation, Maiona said the agency was likely to issue a tourist visa to tide over the next few months. A senior official of the Department of Homeland Security said recently that the agency was aware of the unusual situation.

“And so, USCIS is accounting for the challenges that travel restrictions all over the world, not just in the United States, are placing on individuals’ abilities to sincerely abide by the terms of their visas,” the official said. “So, we do understand that,and I think you’ll find USCIS to be very accommodating.”
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