Manasi Vasavada has less than three weeks before she loses her legal right to be in the country. The dental surgery in Passaic County, New Jersey, where 31-year-old Vasavada has been working for almost two years, closed its doors in mid-March due to Covid-19. Since then she has had unpaid leave.
Vasavada is in the country with an H-1B visa, a temporary visa program for people with special skills. H-1B recipients can only stay legally in the country for 60 days without being paid. Her husband Nandan Buch, also a dentist, is in the country with an H-1B visa, which expires in June. You watched the days with growing fear.
There could soon be a point where the couple can't stay and can't go: India, their home country, has closed its borders indefinitely. They also have a combined total of $ 520,000 in student loans from the advanced dental degrees they received from US universities, which would be almost impossible to repay the salaries they would earn in India. The stress caused the 31-year-old book to lose its hair. None of them sleep well. "Everything is very confusing and dark at the moment," said Vasavada. "We don't know where we're going to end up."
According to Jeremy Neufeld, an immigration policy analyst based in Washington DC, 250,000 guest workers applying for a green card in the United States – about 200,000 of them with H-1B visas – could lose their legal status at the Niskanen Center think tank by the end of June. Thousands more who are not seeking residency status may also be forced to return home, he said. Approximately three quarters of H-1B visas are issued to people working in the technology industry, although the exact values vary from year to year.
Dozens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the past two months, but visa workers are vulnerable in a way that native workers don't. For example, H-1B visas are tied to a specific location and employer who is committed to paying the recipient a minimum salary. Leaving recipients on leave, lowering their wages and, in some cases, allowing them to work from home violates the visa requirements. H-1B workers who have been dismissed have 60 days to find another job, change visas, or leave the country. Even if they do not lose their jobs, workers can face a dilemma if they cannot renew their visas during this period of disruption.
The visa crisis is causing "a human and economic catastrophe," said Doug Rand, who worked in the Obama administration on technology and immigration policies before co-founding Boundless Immigration Inc., a company that helps people manage immigration System. H-1B workers often have families who rely on their work to get permission to stay in the country, including children who may have lived in the U.S. all of their lives. "It's just a mess," said Rand.
In a letter sent to the Department of State and Homeland Security on April 17, TechNet, a lobby group that includes Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, joined a coalition of trade groups seeking help for foreign-born people Workers demanded. The letter called for a delay in the expiry date of the work permit until at least September 10. "Without action, these problems will result in hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs and have profound negative economic impacts," the letter said.
The technology industry is critical to supporting offices that work remotely, help doctors deliver telemedicine services, and keep students at home learning, said Alex Burgos, senior vice president of federal and government relations at TechNet. "We have seen the administration extend the tax filing deadlines," he said, and similar flexibility in visa programs makes sense, "because no one is to blame here in any way."
The Trump administration did not respond to the letter. A spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service declined to say whether the agency would extend the visa deadlines, but said that it could provide special assistance, on request, to people affected by circumstances beyond their control.
The government has taken a consistently tough stance on immigration and workers born abroad. The number of non-immigration visas issued in 2019 fell for the fourth year in a row from 10.9 million in 2015 to 8.7 million, the State Department said. Last month, the embassy and consulate department closed with little guidance for those at risk of becoming illegally. Personal services to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, have been discontinued since March 18 and will resume on June 4 at the earliest, which is 78 days of service.
On April 20, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was planning a temporary ban on all immigration to protect American jobs. The following day, he announced a regulation that prevented most people outside the United States from receiving green cards for 60 days. This led to the risk of further disruption to companies employing many workers born abroad.
On the day the President announced his management, Luis von Ahn, co-founder and CEO of language learning startup Duolingo Inc., posted a message on Twitter that a green card ban would force the company to create jobs abroad relocate. Von Ahn is an immigrant from Guatemala, and a fifth of Duolingo's 250 employees have an H-1B or other visa. The company plans to increase its workforce by 50% to keep pace with an increase in pandemic usage. "We have definitely felt the practical impact of processing delays," said Duolingo spokesman Sam Dalsimer. "There are also psychological effects on employees whose future and ability to stay here are more uncertain than ever."
In one case, Duolingo tried to hire an engineer who was recently fired by another technology company. The worker is in the United States with an O-1 visa that is intended for people with exceptional skills. Duolingo estimates that with additional pandemic delays, he will have to wait 6 to 9 months for his visa and work permit. In the meantime, he cannot work for the company or leave the United States.
However, the companies facing the most difficult decisions are the ones that cut staff in response to the pandemic. Some choose to leave US-born workers and fire foreign workers whose visas require payment. Others choose to keep H-1B employees on the job to maintain their legal status while firing U.S. workers. Rebecca Bernhard, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, exposes employers who treat workers differently based on their immigration status to potential discrimination lawsuits.
For some workers, a stable future in the United States suddenly seems distant.
Shawn Noronha, a 23-year-old Australian who lives in San Francisco, was fired from his job at a fintech startup in January. He found a new position with an enterprise software startup that was ready to sponsor his visa. But before he could come to an Australian consulate to update his Covid 19 hit paperwork.
Noronha changed his status from a work visa to a tourist visa, which gives him the opportunity to stay in the United States until the end of June. He spends his free time baking, walking, and learning Python, a programming language. But without a regular paycheck, he eats up his savings. President Trump's recent tweets about tightening immigration restrictions have led him to question his decision to migrate to the United States. "I was thinking about making the right choice." said Noronha. "Should I just go home and maybe pursue the American dream later in life?"
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)