H-1B visa holders seek extension of 60-day grace period after job loss due to pandemic

Many say finding a new job within 60 days is a tough task in the pandemic economy. 

Sandeep Verma, who had been living and working in the US on an H-1B visa, was recently asked to leave his job by his employer. The mid-size technology firm stated its inability to retain him due to the ongoing pandemic.

Verma is in a precarious situation now as he can stay in the country for only 60 days to find a new job and have his new employer to transfer the visa. He has tried his best to find a new job, but as the end of the 60-day grace period approaches, he is getting restless.

“Finding a job in the middle of a pandemic is an almost impossible feat,” Verma said. “Also, at a time when most employers are down-sizing to cope up with the economic instability, hoping for a new employer who would be willing to transfer your visa is like asking for snow in Sahara!”

While a record number of Americans, across sectors of economy, have lost their jobs in the past 12 months due to Covid, Verma says those on work visa are doubly hit. He said, “Does anyone realize that H-1B holders do not qualify for unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs? We have families to feed too. Especially in the ongoing crisis how do we navigate finding jobs, finding sponsors or packing up and leaving back to our home countries? It is tough for all but doubly unfair on us.”

READ: With the economy in tailspin, H-1B visa holders living in fear (May 20, 2020)

With as many as 40 million Americans reporting job losses between last March and June, the country has seen unprecedented levels of economic hardship. However, immigration experts maintain that the situation has been even more dire for those on visas, as US citizens and permanent residents could get help in the form of unemployment benefits.

Nik Mehra, a Bay Area software professional who has been on a H-1B visa for past 5 years, said that the fear among his peers is real. “Unless we have a written contract, the US law gives the employer to terminate an H-1B worker anytime they may deem necessary,” he said. “I have been talking to people and ex colleagues to just weigh my chances in the job market, should this happen to me.”

A large number of H-1B visa holders are now urging the Biden administration, which had promised immigration and work visa reforms, to consider extending the H-1B grace period from the current 60 days to a few more months.

“H-1B workers constitute a huge chunk in the tech force,” said Sudeep U, who is on H-1B. “H-1B workers are getting laid off and we just get 2 months to find a job and an employer who will transfer the visa which in the middle of the pandemic becomes difficult. Also H-1B workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits. We have a family, too. I want to request the government to at least extend our grace period for a year or find some other solution.”

He added, “Every other country is giving some sort of relief to those who live and work there. We cannot leave in between all of this.”

READ: H-1B community bracing for job losses, uncertain future in the wake of Covid-19 economic meltdown (April 7, 2020 )

Immigration lawyers agree that finding a new job and transferring the visa within two months is difficult, given the current employment scene. But many point out that to hope for an extension when there are so many other H-1B issues to tackle seems like a dream. There are already speculations on whether Biden would rescind the Trump ban on new work visas come March 31.

“Biden should at least allow the H-1B ban to lapse on March 31 even though he does not rescind it before the date,” immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta said. “Although it would be powerful if he affirmatively rejects the ban any time from now till March 31.”

Another issue is the massive backlog, which only swelled during the Trump era. The Biden administration is yet to address the issue, even as dependents of H-1B visa holders continue to complain about their work permit delays.

“If we were to rate the priority of extending the H-1B grace period, I would say it would be on the lowest low of Biden’s long list of immigration issues he needs to handle currently,” an immigration consultant who works on the West Coast told the American Bazaar on condition of anonymity.

(Some names in the story are changed on request.)

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