‘Extend H-1B visa’s grace period,’ recommends US Presidential sub-committee

WASHINGTON – Calls are being made to extend the grace period for thousands of retrenched H-1B workers so they can explore job opportunities or find other alternatives.

In this regard, a US Presidential sub-committee has advised the federal government to extend the grace period from the existing 60 days to 180 days as the recent downsizing has left thousands of highly skilled foreign-born workers high and dry who will have to leave the country within 60 days if they are unable to find any employment opportunity.

“The immigration subcommittee recommends the Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to extend the grace period for H-1B workers, who have lost their jobs, from 60 days to 180 days,” Ajay Jain Bhutoria, member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, said on Tuesday.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits companies to engage foreign workers in occupations that need theoretical or technical expertise and tech giants rely on it to rope in employees each year from abroad.

In his commentary, Bhutoria elaborated the challenges faced by H-1B workers laid off from their jobs including finding a new job within a fixed timeframe and paperwork for transferring H-1B status.

The member pushed for the extension of the grace period and added that highly skilled tech workers are essential to the economic growth of the United States.

Meanwhile, members of the commission supported the move; however, the decision rests with authorities in this regard who are being pushed from different quarters in the backdrop of recent downsizing.

The H-1B visa holders face difficulties when they are laid off as after termination, they have only 60-days during which they must either leave the United States, seek a change of immigration status, or find another employer who can file an H-1B petition on their behalf and failure to do so results in violation of the terms of their non-immigrant visa.

In case a new employer files a new H-1B petition for the visa holder within 60 days of a previous employer’s termination, the change of employer petition will typically be accepted despite a gap in the employee’s H-1B status.

Nonetheless, the challenging job market makes it difficult to complete the process in 60 days as tech companies conduct four to five rounds of interviews, which is time consuming and involves significant amount of paperwork and if the time is over, this results in the loss of skilled labour as these workers may not be able to return unless they get a new H-1B, which may take years.

The Washington Post has reported that nearly 200,000 IT workers have been laid off since November last year from companies as big as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon.