Can Coronavirus Pandemic Drive 300,000 H-1B Visa Holders Out of the US? Mass Exodus of H-1B Workers?

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The US has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases recorded, with numbers exceeding 460,000 people.

It has also dethroned Italy, securing the maximum number of recorded deaths, over 20,000.

There is an unprecedented surge in the number of infected cases and deaths, each day.

Despite the numbers painted in red, President Trump is contemplating and considering bringing an end to the lockdown period, starting next month.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given a heavy blow to the world economy, resulting in massive layoffs and unemployment.

Economic experts fear the condition shall only deteriorate in coming weeks and months, for the American economy.

H-1B Visa Holders under Fears of Losing Jobs

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows the US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

They hire multitudes of employees each year from countries like India and China, through it.

Tang Chen, a software developer in the US was laid off. She fears she’ll have to leave the US if she doesn’t find a new job soon.

It is also extremely difficult to find a flight ticket back to her home country China, as all the entry routes to the US have been sealed.

Another such techie, Priya K from India, working for a tech start-up in US, hasn’t been able to sleep these days, fearing her company like many others in the US, may get rid of H-1B workers.

There are many working without pay, enough to sustain in the country and not be laid off.

Many companies in the US have started downsizing, amid the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are close to 300,000 H-1B visa holders in the US.

Even if these visa holders are fortunate enough to find another job in the next few weeks, it won’t be an easy process to ensure their stay in the US.

Sources estimate that about 20-30% of H-1B and H4 visa holders may have to return home in the next 5-7 months.

Reports estimate job losses in the US to be about 47 million.

Initial reports suggest that quite a number of H-1B employees are being laid off. In some cases, companies have already informed their H-1B employees that they are on top of the list of being fired.

Indian H-1B Visa Holders Start a Petition Campaign

According to United States Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS), about 68% of H-1B visa registrations for FY21 were from India, as on April 1, 2020.

As per the current federal rules, H-1B workers have a 60-day grace period of unemployment time during each authorised validity period, to stay in the USA legally.

They must find a new job within these 60 days, else they’ll have to leave the country.

It is estimated that the US holds over 65,000 H-1B visa holders from India.

Fearing layoffs due to the degrading economy, the Indian H-1B visa holders have requested the Trump administration to extend their permissible post-job loss limit to stay in the US, from the existing 60 to 180 days.

They have started a petition campaign on the White House website, to extend the grace period to 180 days. It went live on March 19.

The petition has attracted more than 52,000 signatures, as of April 15, 2020.

However, in order to get an official update on the petition from the White House, it has to get at least 100,000 signatures by April 18.

The Indian government too, has been in touch with the US authorities, requesting them to extend the validity of H1B and other types of visas for Indian nationals who are stranded in the US due to the pandemic.