How long can H-1B visa holders stay in the US after losing their jobs?
Amid anticipation of a negative outcome, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sought to allay the fears of fired workers holding H-1B visas by making it clear that they won't be asked to leave the country within 60 days and can have multiple options to stay.
In a letter to the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies, USCIS Director Ur M Jaddou wrote a letter in this regard.
"When non-immigrant workers are laid off, they may not be aware of their options and may, in some instances, wrongly assume that they have no option but to leave the country within 60 days," the letter said.
The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), which has been working for laid-off H-1B visa holders, recently wrote to the USCIS.
Jaddou's letter came in response to the FIIDS's letter to the USCIS about the impacts of recent technology sector layoffs and its request to consider an increase to the 60-day grace period.
In the letter addressed to FIIDS director for policy and analysis strategy Khanderao Kand, the USCIS said it acknowledges the financial and emotional impact that job loss can have on employment-based non-immigrant workers and their families in the United States.
"We are aware of the issue of involuntary terminations, especially in the technology sector," it said.
The USCIS further said when a non-immigrant worker's employment is terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they typically may take one of the four actions, if eligible, to remain in a period of authorised stay in the United States. They can opt for options like filing an application for a change of non-immigrant status or filing an application for adjustment of status.
Another way of dealing with it can be by filing "compelling circumstances" employment authorisation documents or being the beneficiary of a nonfrivolous petition to change employers, the USCIS said.
"If one of these actions occurs within the up to 60-day grace period, the nonimmigrant's period of authorised stay in the United States can exceed 60 days, even if they lose their previous nonimmigrant status," the USCIS said.
"If the worker takes no action within the grace period, they and their dependents may then need to depart the United States within 60 days, or when their authorised validity period ends, whichever is shorter," the USCIS said in its letter.
Again, because a 60-day grace period is codified in the regulations of the Department of Homeland Security, extending it would require a regulatory change in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and could not be extended by USCIS through policy guidance.
Professionals facing job loss already opt for several options to remain in the United States while continuing their job search past 60 days, the USCIS wrote.
The organisation said it recognises the contributions made to the United States by talented foreign-born workers, including in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
Jaddou spoke about USCIS's action to help laid-off workers. "We will continue to monitor the technology sector layoffs and explore appropriate measures," he said.
In a statement, FIIDS director for policy and analysis strategy, Khanderao Kand said departing the US after layoffs has an immediate impact on the families of the laid-off H1B workers and their school-going children.
"Losing these professionals is also a brain drain impacting the future competitiveness of the US in emerging technologies. Hence, FIIDS has launched a multi-phase campaign from awareness building to jointly written letters to the USCIS with elected officials and other prominent organisations," the statement said.
In January, the FIIDS launched a media campaign to raise awareness about the issue. In February, it launched a petition which received support from various prominent organisations like the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, US-India Business Council, American Jewish Committee, and The Indus Entrepreneurs seeking an extension of the grace period.
"We appreciate the USCIS for clearly providing options for the laid-off H1Bs. These official communications will improve the possibility for the H1B holders to remain legally in the US. We will still work with the DHS to change the grace period," Kand said.
House of Representatives members Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, in their letter to USCIS, termed the departure of STEM professionals from the US a national security threat.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is one of Indian-Amercans who has pledged to help fired workers, said that if retained, these laid-off professionals can develop innovative products and potentially start new businesses and create new jobs while advancing research across critical industries.
Recently, Senator Chuck Schumer told an Indian American audience that the issue can be addressed with a procedure change.
Earlier, the "White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders" under the Health and Human Services Department also recommended an extension of the H-1B grace period.