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What to do if you get laid off on an H-1B visa during the coronavirus pandemic

USCIS immigration H1-B visa
  • An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ highly skilled workers from other countries.
  • Congress allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to issue up to 65,000 H-1B work visas to highly skilled foreign workers each year. It can issue an additional 20,000 H-1B visas to workers who obtained a graduate degree in the U.S.
  • Because more people apply than can be accepted, the visas are run through a lottery system.
  • If you get laid off on an H-1B visa, you have several options: Find a new employer to sponsor your H1-B visa; get a spousal support visa; apply to change your status to a student or tourist visa; or leave the U.S.
  • Your visa status will expire 60 days after termination.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
In April, the unemployment rate in the U.S. jumped to 14.7% — the highest it's been since the Great Depression. The April jobs report shows that more than 20 million jobs were lost in a single month.
While a sudden loss of employment is cause for concern for anyone, it comes with an additional concern for foreign workers who are in the U.S. on an H-1B visa.
That's because foreign workers facing unemployment have 60 days from termination to come up with a formal reason for staying in the U.S. That reason must be accepted by the U.S. government, or the foreign worker will have to leave the country.
Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy analyst with the Washington, DC, think tank Niskanen Center estimated in a recent article that more than 200,000 foreign workers on H-1B visas could lose their legal status by the end of June. This could include employed foreign workers who have to renew their visas in June.
If you've recently lost your job in the U.S. and are on an H-1B visa, here are your options.

1. Talk to an immigration attorney 

The first thing a foreign worker with an H-1B visa should do after getting laid off is consult with an immigration lawyer.
Business Insider spoke to three experts — Karla M. McKanders, a clinical law professor at Vanderbilt University; Lucas Guttentag, a law professor at Stanford and Yale; and Linda Rose, a practicing immigration lawyer — and all three agreed on that step. Rose stressed the importance of consulting with the right type of attorney.
"We strongly recommend the individual consult with a knowledgeable attorney," Rose said. "Not all immigration attorneys practice business immigration."
Suggested resource: The American Immigrant Lawyers Association (AILA) is an organization of attorneys and law professors who represent foreign students, workers, asylum seekers, usually on a volunteer basis.

2. Try to find a new employer

Another option for those who have been recently laid off is to find a new employer.
To continue working in the U.S., those on an H-1B visa must find another employer who is willing to sponsor their H-1B visa.
Suggested resource: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has an H-1B Employer Data Hub. Those looking for an H1-B sponsor can use this tool to find out which employers have sponsored foreign workers on an H-1B between 2009 and 2020.

3. Change your visa status in the allotted 60-day time period

To change your visa status is to formally change your reason for being in the U.S. This formal change has to be approved by the U.S. government and it has to happen within the 60-day period that starts directly after termination. Even outside a pandemic, it's a difficult process in America, McKanders, the Vanderbilt professor, told Business Insider.
"Someone who is in the United States seeking to change their visa status during the pandemic ... will have a hard time navigating through this process," McKanders told Business Insider. "The law during the pandemic is complex and constantly in flux."
Start your visa application process by filing an application with USCIS.
From there, applicants typically go through several more steps, including fingerprinting, interviews, background checks, and sometimes requests for more information.
Guttentag, who founded and ran the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project for almost three decades, told Business Insider than under normal circumstances, reported cycle times for changing one's visa status range from three to 12 months.
The USCIS suspended all in-person interviews and fingerprinting on March 18. The offices are scheduled to reopen on June 4, and online filing is always recommended for submitting forms.

3a. Alternate visa options to consider include a visitor visa and a student visa

While there are multiple visa categories, most foreign workers are likely to be eligible for the following types of visas.
The first option is a B-1/B-2 visa, which is a visitor visa, Rose told Business Insider.
B-1 visas are meant for those visiting the U.S. for business purposes. B-2 visas are meant for tourists. 
The other option for foreign workers is to try applying for a student (F-1) visa, Rose told Business Insider. However, timing is critical. 
The U.S. Department of State recommends applying for your F-1 visa early because interview wait times vary depending on your location, and amid the pandemic, all interviews are suspended until June 4 at the earliest.
Tang Chen, a foreign worker from China who was recently laid off, told CNN that she has been applying to colleges to get an F-1 visa so she can legally stay in the U.S.

4. Apply for a spousal support visa

A spousal support visa allows one to continue to work in the U.S. as long as their spouse remains employed.
A recently laid-off startup employee previously told Business Insider that his wife was only authorized to work in the United States under a spousal support visa linked to his continued employment, forcing her to leave her job if he fails to find one.
Suggested Resource: The U.S. Department of State has an overview of spousal support visas, including information about who is eligible for one and how to apply.
SEE ALSO: More students are considering taking a gap year as colleges' fall semester plans remain unclear. Here's what you should know before taking a year-long break from school.
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* This article was originally published here Press Release Distribution

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