Covid-19 puts over 200,000 H-1B workers on verge of losing legal status, Indians to be worst hit

indica News Bureau-


The Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected the tech sector but also has given a massive blow to the world economy, resulting in massive layoffs resulting in unemployment. The poor economy is resulting in unpaid leave for thousands of workers in US.

Around 30 million people have filed jobless claims in America after the pandemic. There are many who are working without pay. It will not be too long before layoff begins. There are close to 3,00,000 H-1B visa holders in the US. It does not matter that some of them have been working in the US for as long as 10-15 years and are on their way to becoming permanent residents or citizens. The coronavirus pandemic is creating a situation where many H-1B workers will lose jobs and potentially have to leave the U.S. even before their status was scheduled to expire.

Initial reports suggest that quite a number of H-1B employees are being laid off. In some cases, companies have already informed their H-1B employees that they are on top of the list of being fired. All these will directly impact the Indian IT service providers and its IT workers, who are contract employees there, reported Trak. Those on H-1B visas are not eligible to unemployment benefits. They are also not entitled to the social security benefits, even though there is deductions from their salary for this purpose.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China. f H-1B visas are valid and their job contract is terminated, they will have 60 days to find a new job. However, given the travel restrictions and recession, it will be difficult if not impossible, to find a new job. If their H-1B visa is expiring, renewing them now is tough since the USCIS and embassies are closed. In the case of rejection, they will have to change their status to B2 visa (visitor). This means they cannot look for new jobs. So they will have to come back to India, find a new employer to sponsor the H-1B.

As many as 250,000 guest workers seeking a green card in the US, about 2,00,000 of them on H-1B visas, could lose their legal status by the end of June,said a Bloomberg report by quoting Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy analyst with the Washington D.C.-based think tank Niskanen Center. Thousands more who are not seeking resident status may also be forced to return home, the report said. About three-quarters of H-1B visas go to people working in the technology industry, though the exact levels vary year by year.

Priya K, a techie employed in a tech startup in USA is an H-1B visa holder, which means there shouldn’t be a problem for her to be assured of her job security. However, she hasn’t been able to sleep these days due to thoughts of leaving the country, fearing that her company like many others in the USA, may get rid of H-1B workers, reported the Trak.

Manasi Vasavada has less than three weeks left before she loses her legal right to be in the country. The dental practice in Passaic County, New Jersey, where Vasavada, 31, has worked for almost two years closed its doors in mid-March due to Covid-19. She has been on an unpaid leave of absence ever since, reported Bloomberg.

Vasavada is in the country on an H-1B visa, a temporary visa program designed for people with specialized skills. H-1B recipients can only remain in the country legally for 60 days without being paid. Her husband Nandan Buch, also a dentist, is in the country on an H-1B visa that expires in June. They have been watching the days tick by with growing fear.

There may soon come a point when the couple can’t stay and can’t go: India, their home country, has closed its borders indefinitely. They also have a combined $520,000 in student loans from the advanced dental degrees they completed at U.S. universities, which would be nearly impossible to pay back on the salaries they would earn in India. The stress has caused Buch, also 31, to start losing his hair. Neither of them is sleeping well. “Everything is really confusing and dark right now,” said Vasavada. “We don’t know where we will end up.”

The visa crisis is causing “a catastrophe at a human level and an economic level,” said Doug Rand, who worked on technology and immigration policy in the Obama administration before co-founding Boundless Immigration Inc., a company that helps people navigate the immigration system. H-1B workers often have families who also rely on their jobs for authorization to stay in the country, including children who may have spent their entire lives in the U.S. “It’s just a mess,” Rand said.

On April 17 a group of business immigration advocates sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of State, the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director of USCIS, calling for a delay in work authorization expiration dates until at least Sept. 10.

“Without action, these issues will lead to hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs and have profound negative economic effects,” the letter read. TechNet, a lobbying group whose members include Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, joined a coalition of trade groups calling for relief for foreign-born workers, has also signed the letter. “Add flexibility to continue processing essential worker visas, to include health care workers and farmworkers – Delayed visa processing and closures of consular posts mean that temporary workers set to enter the U.S. to work are now unable to do so.  The hospital and agricultural systems in the U.S. rely on these workers. These organizations ask that USCIS take over the processing so that these workers can come into the country to help relieve the current workforce,” the letter demanded.

The Trump administration has not responded to the letter. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson declined to say if the agency would extend visa deadlines but said it may provide special support for people affected by circumstances beyond their control when requested.