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H-1B Visa Holders During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Yekrangi & Associates

With the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, people all over the country are losing their jobs. Some people have been kept afloat thanks to some of the financial assistance the federal government has extended. However, for others, money cannot replace what they lose when they are terminated from their jobs. This has been a massive concern for people currently working in the United States through an H-1B visa.

Grace Period

When an H-1B beneficiary loses their job, they are in danger of falling out of status.[1] However, they can stay in the U.S. until the expiration of their I-94 admission or approval. This potentially gives people some time to find a new job and porting their H-1B status over to this new job. Note, however, that H-1B portability requires that the new job is in the “same or similar occupational classification” as the job the H-1B visa was issued for. This may be a difficult route for many given the state of the economy, but if possible, it will allow H-1B visa holders to stay in the United States.

Note that, as of January 17, 2017, USCIS has a rule establishing a 60-day rule for high-skilled workers (such as H-1B workers) to pursue new employment and an extension of their nonimmigrant status. The 60 days begin on the date of the last day of employment, as long as employment ended before the end of their authorized validity period. Those 60 days will be limited if the I-94 expiration is shorter than the 60 days allowed by this rule.

It is important that H-1B visa holders do not work without authorization from the Department of Labor or they risk having the 60-day grace period and their I-94 status. An H-1B visa holder found working without authorization will immediately be found to be unlawfully present in the United States. Extended unlawful presence within the United States can lead to being barred from reentering the United States in the future, so this is something people should try to avoid.

What Options Are Available?

  1. Find A New Job: This option is obviously easier said than done, especially given the state of the economy. The option is particularly complicated for H-1B visas due to the requirement that the new job be in the same or similar field. However, it is still an option and is the most direct way to ensure that the H-1B visa holder can stay in the country. Furthermore, the very fact that someone has an H-1B visa means that they have special skills that are valuable in the United States, so there might be more opportunities for these workers, even if it might mean relocating within the United States.
  2. Find An Alternative Way to Change Status: The options here will vary depending on specific circumstances and anyone hoping to change their status should consult an immigration attorney to figure out what the best options are for them. Note that options right now may be limited due to travel and immigration restrictions.
    • Apply for a Student (F-1) Visa: This is not necessarily the best option for most people, given that H-1B visa holders are likely to already have a high level of education. On top of that, the high cost of an education for non-residents can make this prohibitively expensive. However, it is still an option for people who wish to stay in the United States above anything else.
    • Marry a United States Citizen: This is mostly a valid option only for H-1B visa holders already in a relationship with a United States citizen. Although it is never ideal to have to hurry into marriage, this is a good option for people hoping to make a new life in the United States. It is important to note that USCIS takes marriage fraud very seriously, so we stress that people only consider this option if the relationship is a valid one.
    • Become an Investor (EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program): This option is ideal for people who have a significant amount of assets as it requires a minimum of $1.8 million in investments or $900,000 if the investments are in a targeted employment area. Targeted employment areas are places designated by USCIS to be in particular need of investments. These are usually areas that are either rural or are experiencing high unemployment (defined as at least 150% of the national average unemployment rate) at the time of the investment.

Get the Help You Need Today

These are difficult times for everyone, and we understand that circumstances are particularly scary for many immigrants. While we are conducting initial consultations and other meetings remotely to keep our team and clients safe, we are committed to staying open during the pandemic. If you need dedicated support and guidance through this uncertainty, you can count on Yekrangi & Associates. Contact an Irvine immigration lawyer serving throughout Orange County today!

To schedule your consultation via phone, email, or video chat, call (949) 478-4963 or fill out our online contact form today.


[1] Note that it is the duty of the employer to notify USCIS that they terminated the H-1B worker. 8 CFR 214.2(h)(11). An employer may even be obligated to pay the employee their wages if the employer doesn’t notify USCIS.


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