Millions of workers in the US are losing their jobs amidst an oncoming recession caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Losing jobs has become symbolic of this spread. And foreign workers on non-immigrant visas like H1-B and L1 are not exempted from getting laid-off from their jobs.
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Massive lay-offs are already underway and H1-B visa holders are also getting laid off in these times. Should this happen, USCIS grants a 60-day window in which time to find another employer or apply for a change of status. If neither works, the beneficiary has to leave the country.
There is a petition circulating to be submitted to the White House requesting that this 60-day grace period be extended to 180 days. We explain what that means here.
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What Does The 60-Day Grace Period Mean?
In January 2017, USCIS allowed 60 days for any valid H1-B visa holder who loses his job, either by being laid off or if he quits, to do the following:
- Job Portability: Look for a new employer who is willing to sponsor him/his H1-B visa
- Change of status: to another valid US visa status like an F1, student visa or a B1 business visa
- Vacate: Wrap up his affairs in the US and leave the country
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How Will the H1-B Grace Period Extension to 180-Days Make a Difference?
With the unemployment in the US rising to 12 million in just a couple of months, and world economies shutting down due to Coronavirus, many employed foreign workers in the US are not only facing financial hardships but visa related difficulties. Petitioners are requesting for an extension in this grace period to 180 days to allow the following considerations in the present Covid-19 times:
- A loss of job causes severe economic hardships. Having an additional grace period of 180 days allows the H1-B worker to look for another sponsoring employer and petition for an H1-B Transfer.
- H1-B visa holders come to the US with their families. Their spouses who might be employed as well, are on H4 visas and dependent on the primary H1-B visa’s validity. A loss of job for the H1-B visa holder means loss of work status for the dependent H4 EAD holder as well. The additional time allows both to look for an alternate employer.
- Their children who might be going to school in the US are in the middle of their school terms. Not being able to complete their academic curriculum puts a huge strain on their academic futures.
- Travel restrictions makes it impossible to return to their home countries. Several international borders have been shut major airlines are not flying internationally during the pandemic.
- If the H1-B beneficiary is unable to leave the country within the short 60-day period, he will have overstayed his visa validity and accrue unlawful stay in the US.
- The 180-day grace period allows them to ‘stay in status’ for a longer period and allows them to remedy the issue either by transferring his H1-B to another employer or changing his status.
- All H1-B workers and their families are dependent upon their employers for medical insurance. They may not have this covered in their home countries. Giving them an additional 180-days to find an employer means ensuring they and their families have a better chance of being insured during this pandemic.
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- Lastly, offer some consideration. USCIS has offered a lot of flexibility during these crucial times. Being open to accepting electronically reproduced signatures instead of the mandatory wet signatures on all documents as well as offering extensions to visiting non-immigrants who were unable to leave in a timely manner due to Coronavirus, USCIS is understanding of the current circumstances.
- H1-B visa holders are a highly skilled, educated tax paying residents of the US who support the US economy. Providing some extra time to address a lay off allows them to continue supplying their skills to the US workforce
Things to Remember
- I-94 validity: If the period validity in the I-94 ends sooner than the grace period, then it supersedes the grace period.
- USCIS Discretion: Whether the grace period extends from 60 to 180 days or not, it is completely up to the discretion of USCIS to grant it to the H1-B worker. It is not a guaranteed state of visa validity period.
- Grace Period Revoked: If the H1-B worker has engaged in unauthorized employment, fraud activities or has a criminal record, this grace period can be rescinded with immediate effect.
- Validity: The grace period is applicable only once and when employment was terminated before the visa validity period ended.
The deadly Coronavirus has infected over 2 million people and taken over 130,000 lives across the globe. If this has cost you your job when on an H1-B or L1 visa, you have 60 grace days to make alternative arrangements.