With countries sealing their borders and international flights being grounded, many professionals from other countries have been stuck in the US during the pandemic, even beyond their authorised period of stay. However, the US government has decided to give them reason to cheer up by accepting their H-1B visa applications for an extended stay. Given that Indian professionals benefit the most from the H-1B visa programme, this is a huge relief to the thousands of Indian professionals stranded in the country.
The H-1B non-immigrant visa is relied on by American companies to hire foreign workers in specialty jobs requiring special theoretical or technical expertise. It allows technology companies to hire thousands of employees each year from other nations, especially India and China. As per rules, non-immigrants have to leave the US before the expiry of their authorised period of stay. However, with the COVID-19 situation, many students and professionals have had to stay on by no fault of theirs, risking ‘unlawful’ stay.
Also, rules say that if an employer terminates the contract of an H-1B visa holder, the employee has to find an alternative job within 60 days, to be able to retain the visa status. Indian IT professionals have been pleading for an extension of this 60-day grace period to 180 days.
Recognising the complications that have come up for non-immigrants due to the pandemic, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has conveyed that it will soon start accepting applications for extension from those whose H-1B visas have expired. They can apply for either extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS).
If filed on time, an EOS can allow Indian professionals to extend their stay for 240 days, along with authorisation to work with the same employer, under the same terms and conditions as earlier. Now, the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has conveyed that delays in applications caused by the pandemic will be considered under extraordinary circumstances.