US allows H-1B visa extension applications, relief for stranded Indians due to COVID-19

Non-immigrants can apply for extension of stay or change of status permit

Stamp-H1B-USA-Worker-Visa-usa-H-1B-shut Not being able to file for visa extension would have rendered thousands of students and professionals, among others, becoming illegal immigrants in the US due to visa expiry | File

In a huge breather for stranded non-immigrants working in the US, the country has decided to allow applications by H-1B visa holders for an extended stay in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The crucial move comes at a time when countries around the world have closed their borders and all international passenger flights have been suspended globally. 

The travel restrictions have left a number of H-1B visa holders lurking in the dark with their visa permit lapsing. However, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will shortly start accepting applications for the extension of expiring visas. “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic," said a new notification on the DHS website. “We continue to carefully analyze these issues and to leverage our resources to effectively address these challenges within our existing authorities. DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of US workers during this pandemic," it said.

Consequently, non-immigrants could apply for an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) permit. Not being able to file for visa extension would have rendered thousands of students and professionals, among others, illegal immigrants in the US due to visa expiry. “Nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending. Where applicable, employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time,” said the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in a media release on Monday. There are between 65,000-75,000 Indians with H-1B visas in the US, according to various estimates.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Various industry bodies have been lobbying with the US administration to extend the visa permit for the stranded non-immigrant workers in the US. US Tech Workers, a nonprofit organisation which describes itself as representing the voices of American workers harmed by the H-1B visa programme, in its letter to Trump also urged him to suspend the H-2B visa programmes for the foreign guest workers, too.