‘Time running out’, Why H-1B professionals may soon have to leave US?

The Foundation For India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), which took up their cases with lawmakers and federal administration has said that since last year, more than 2,50,000 such professionals have been laid off in the United States.

The Foundation said that time is running out for laid off employees and and their families. «This has a humanitarian impact on them as their families, including their US-born children are uprooted abruptly, and those who were laid off in the earlier months are now running out of time,» FIIDS said as quoted by PTI.

What is H-1B visa?

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. It is the only way for the US employers to hire foreign workers for specialty jobs. Most of the applicants belong to IT, finance, engineering, architecture, etc, field.

Earlier, it was reported that US Citizenship and Immigration Services was considering their request to extend the existing time window to 180 days from the earlier 60 days.

However, FIIDS said that the process is likely to take up some time leaving no other option for the professionals but to leave the country.

In a media statement, the foundation said, “FIIDS appeals to the USCIS, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consider a request to expedite the extension of grace period. FIIDS also appeals to the elected officials, tech executives, and community leaders to emphasise the need and urgency to increase the grace period.»

Since last year, more than 2,50,000 such professionals have been laid off in the United States. This number continues to grow with companies like Meta announcing another set of tens of thousands of layoffs, FIIDS said.

«A large number of these professionals are tax paying H-1B immigrants (estimated 1,00,000), particularly from India, who need to leave the US if they cannot find another employer filing for their H-1B in 60 days,» it said.

Early this week, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, recommended the federal government to extend the grace period for H1-B workers, who have lost their jobs, from the existing 60 days to 180 days so that the workers have enough opportunities to find a new job or other alternatives.

It is now up to the White House to accept the recommendations. However, it would be too late for the current H-1B visa holders who have lost their jobs since last October.

Ajay Jain Bhutoria, member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, said, “The immigration subcommittee recommends the Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to extend the grace period for H-1B workers, who have lost their jobs, from 60 days to 180 days.»

Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China. He added that this is forcing many H-1B workers to leave the country which could result in a loss of skilled labour for the United States.

Also Read: H-1B visas registrations for 2024 to begin on 1 March. Know details

In his presentation, Bhutoria, strongly advocated for the extension of the grace period, citing the need to support highly skilled tech employees who he said are essential to the economic growth of the United States. Tech companies typically conduct four to five rounds of interviews, which take several weeks before a candidate is offered a job. Even if an H-1B worker is able to find a new job within 60 days, the process of transferring their H-1B status can take take time.

What are the current H-1B visa rules and challenges?

After termination, H-1B workers have a 60-day grace period during which they must either leave the United States, seek a change of immigration status, or have another employer file an H-1B petition on their behalf. If they do not do so within 60 days, they are considered to be in violation of the terms of their non-immigrant visa.

However, if a new employer files a new H-1B petition for the visa holder within 60 days of a previous employer’s termination, the change of employer petition will typically be granted even if there was a gap in the employee’s H-1B status. The workers encounter many barriers that make it difficult for them to complete all requirements for maintaining their status within the current 60-day grace period. The job market can be challenging, which is especially true for workers in specialised fields, Bhutoria said.

Even if an H-1B worker is able to find a new job within 60 days, the process of transferring their H-1B status can be time-consuming and complex given the significant amount of paperwork.

Additionally, based on delays happening at USCIS, this process can take longer than 60 days to complete. This can result in the loss of skilled labour for the United States as these workers may not be able to return unless they get a new H-1B, which may take years.

FIIDS, in its statement, thanked Senate majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer that this issue can be fixed by an administrative process in his discussion with Indian American leaders on a recent call on March 13. It applauded the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) for the discussion and support for this extension in their meeting on March 14.

«We also appealed to the House Subcommittee on Immigration headed by congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to make a similar recommendation to the USCIS,» it said.

Earlier, a survey report titled 2023 Immigration Trends published by Envoy Global had stated that though there is a rise in demand to sponsor foreign talent in the US, however, immigration barriers are leading employers to relocate foreign national employees overseas and outsource jobs.

US immigration barriers commonly cause employers to lose foreign talent. Last year, 82 percent of employers saw a foreign national employee forced to depart the US because they were unable to obtain or extend an employment-based visa. It also stated that 94 percent of companies would hire more foreign nationals if there were fewer immigration barriers in the US.

(With inputs from PTI)

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