Upwards of 250,000 H-1B visa workers could find themselves disqualified for the program in a few weeks if the shutdown continues. Per law, H-1B workers can be between jobs for a maximum of 60 days. As businesses across most of the country remain closed, forced by local and state governments, that means these H-1B workers are technically unemployed.
H-1B recipients are skilled workers who have actual talents to contribute to society.
Manasi Vasavada has less than three weeks left before she loses her legal right to be in the country. The dental practice in Passaic County, New Jersey, where Vasavada, 31, has worked for almost two years closed its doors in mid-March due to Covid-19. She has been on an unpaid leave of absence ever since.
Vasavada is in the country on an H-1B visa, a temporary visa program designed for people with specialized skills. H-1B recipients can only remain in the country legally for 60 days without being paid. Her husband Nandan Buch, also a dentist, is in the country on an H-1B visa that expires in June. They have been watching the days tick by with growing fear.
There may soon come a point when the couple can’t stay and can’t go: India, their home country, has closed its borders indefinitely. They also have a combined $520,000 in student loans from the advanced dental degrees they completed at U.S. universities, which would be nearly impossible to pay back on the salaries they would earn in India. The stress has caused Buch, also 31, to start losing his hair. Neither of them is sleeping well. “Everything is really confusing and dark right now,” said Vasavada. “We don’t know where we will end up.”
As many as 250,000 guest workers seeking a green card in the U.S.—about 200,000 of them on H-1B visas—could lose their legal status by the end of June, according to Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy analyst with the Washington D.C.-based think tank Niskanen Center. Thousands more who are not seeking resident status may also be forced to return home, he said. About three-quarters of H-1B visas go to people working in the technology industry, though the exact levels vary year by year.
Furloughing recipients, reducing their wages, and in some cases allowing them to work from home violates visa requirements. H-1B workers who are terminated have 60-days to find another job, transfer to a different visa or leave the country. Even if they don’t lose their jobs, workers can find themselves in a dilemma if they can’t get their visas renewed during this period of disruption.
The administration has taken a consistently hard-line stance on immigration and foreign-born workers. The number of non-immigrant visas issued in 2019 declined for the fourth consecutive year, to 8.7 million from 10.9 million in 2015, according to the State Department. Last month, the department closed embassies and consulate operations with little guidance to those who risk falling into illegal status. In-person services at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, have been suspended since March 18 and won’t resume until June 4 at the earliest, a 78-day gap in service.
Shawn Noronha, a 23-year-old Australian living in San Francisco, was let go from his job at a fintech startup, in January. He found a new position with an enterprise software startup willing to sponsor his visa. But before he could get to an Australian consulate to update his paperwork Covid-19 hit.
Noronha changed his status from a working visa to a tourist visa, which gives him until the end of June to stay in the U.S. He is spending his free time baking, taking walks and learning Python, a programming language. But without a regular paycheck he’s eating into his savings. The recent tweets from President Trump about tightening restrictions on immigration have him questioning his choice to migrate to the U.S. “It’s made me think, have I made the right choice?” said Noronha. “Should I just go back home and maybe chase the American dream later on in life?”
In related news, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on whether or not Trump can end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the immigrants’ rights wackos are up in arms over that possibility, specifically pointing out the approximate 27,000 DACA recipients who work for hospitals and other “essential” operations during the covid panic.
Perhaps some of the millions of people who have found themselves out of work can fill those positions.