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USCIS visa extensions and COVID-19 impacts on H1-B visa holders

Updated: Apr 23, 2020  | Tags: USA Visa Restrictions, USA Immigration, H1B US Visa, COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to affect international travel, it's essential to keep informed about the latest changes to US ESTA, visa and immigration rules. As well as travel from many countries being restricted or suspended, the US has closed its borders with Canada and Mexico to all but essential travel. The economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown is also having a severe impact on many visa holders living and working in the United States.

USCIS announces the extension of non-immigrant visas on a case by case basis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has no plans for a blanket extension of visas and will take each applicant’s explanation of their circumstances on a case by case basis.

USCIS, the US citizenship and immigration agency, has announced that holders of non-immigrant visas such as the H1-B visa who may be facing difficulties as a consequence of the Coronavirus national emergency may be given special consideration or accelerated processing on an individual basis.

Types of non-immigrant visas include B-1 and B-2 visas for travel or business purposes, J-1 visas for exchange researchers, medics and scholars, F-1 visas for study purposes, H1--B for skilled workers such as IT professionals and L1 for internal company transfers in executive or managerial positions.

USCIS is aware of the numerous challenges faced by individuals and employers as a direct result of the COVID-19 national emergency and is implementing measures to assist them. A spokesperson stated that individuals in the US who required an extension of their nonimmigrant visa, their request might be approved depending on the specific circumstances. Expedited processing or other considerations may be provided on a case by case basis.

There is no blanket extension of H1-B visas, a category that applies largely to Indian and Chinese workers in the IT sector. Individuals need to explain the particular circumstances that require them to remain in the USA and apply for an extension of their visa. Anyone affected by circumstances beyond their control might be provided with special support.

USCIS is continuing to assess the issues and other potential measures that might be taken to address these challenges further and will consider recommendations from the public. Any changes made in the future will be communicated across a wide range of platforms to ensure that people are fully informed of steps taken to address the challenges arising from the coronavirus emergency.

Earlier, the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) had acknowledged that there were challenges specifically related to immigration as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. They continue to analyze the challenges and use their resources to address the issues within the framework of their current authorities. Their stated aim is to protect the citizens of the USA and to improve the employment prospects of American employees during the emergency.

If an applicant applies within the authorized time, their continued presence will not be deemed unlawful. Authorization for employment with the same employer will be extended for a period of up to 240 days, subject to the prior terms and conditions of approval, as long as they file for an extension of stay request on time.

USCIS (the United States Citizen and Immigration Service) reminded applicants and petitioners that delays caused by the coronavirus emergency may be taken into consideration when assessing whether delays in filing paperwork may be excused because of the extraordinary circumstances.

H1-B visa holders seek fair treatment

While the United States has furloughed many American workers or placed them on paid leave, political pressure is mounting for foreign workers on H-1B visas to be treated more fairly. At present, if the contract of the holder of an H-1B visa is terminated by the employer, the employee must find a new job within a grace period of 60 days for the visa status to be maintained. According to figures from USCIS, Indian nationals (mostly IT professionals) are the largest category of employees with H-1B visas and pressure is mounting on India’s prime minister Modi to request Trump top extend the grace period to 180 days. This allows enough time for employees who have been laid off to find other employment as the coronavirus emergency eases.

Chinese professionals working in the United States have also been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Employees who have been laid off have just 60 days to either find new employment or to return to their home country, otherwise, they are deemed to be overstaying their visas. But with very few flights into China available, the return trip is very expensive or near impossible at present. An option some foreign nationals are taking is to apply for a student visa instead. In the meantime, visa holders are unlikely to apply for financial benefits as this might affect their chances of being granted a green card in the future.