Following the sharp economic downturn and suspension of business operations triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of US firms employing H-1B visa holders have laid off numerous employees.
If an employer terminates the contract of H-1B visa holders, the employees need to find new employment within 60 days to retain the H-1B status or face the prospect of being deported to their home countries. This existing rule has exacerbated the problems of H-1B visa holders who have been laid off.
Several reports in the US media have cited Indian H-1B visa holders as expressing concerns that it will be virtually impossible for them to find new jobs if they are laid off, given the rapidly slowing economy.
The Indian government has asked the US to extend the validity of visas, including H-1B and other types of visas, held by Indian nationals who have been hit by the Covid-19-related economic slump, people familiar with developments said on Friday.
A petition on the White House website is requesting the US administration to extend the 60-day period to 180 days to protect H-1B workers in these difficult times. The petition further states: “Most H-1B workers are from India and cannot travel home with children who are US citizens as many nations [have] announced an entry ban, including India.”
It adds: “The Covid-19 situation is getting worse with massive lay-offs expected. The economic conditions may have a significant impact on H-1B workers.”
The petition has nearly 49,000 signatures but will get a response from the White House only if it reaches 100,000 signatures by April 18.
The Indian side is hopeful the US administration will step in to help H-1B visa holders.
The H-1B programme is a non-immigrant work visa that allows American employers to hire foreign workers for specialist jobs, and Indians are the largest beneficiary of the programme.
Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla took up the matter during his telephone conversation with US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun on Wednesday, when the two sides also discussed ways to enhance cooperation to counter the pandemic and ensure the availability of essential medicines and equipment.
“We have been in touch with the US government, requesting them to extend the validity of visas of Indian nationals – H-1B and other types of visas – who are stranded in the US due to the pandemic,” said one of the people cited above, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We are closely monitoring related developments,” the person added, without giving details.