Indian techies who are awaiting their turn for H1-B visa stamping and overseas students who are looking for a job before their Optional Practical Training (OPT) F1 student visa expires.
Rohan N, a techie from an IT company in Bengaluru, had his H-1B visa stamped in January and was all ready to leave for the US on a three-year visa. Then, the coronavirus outbreak happened.
“I should have gotten the dates from clients by now. I am expecting a delay of another two-three months due to the current situation,” he added.
Apart from the delay that valid H-1B visa holders will face, people who are waiting to get their visa done and looking to file their nominations may face challenges as the uncertainty around the virus outbreak continues, say immigration experts.
People who are nominated for the H-1B lottery that opens on April 1 may also be affected as clients may postpone the decisions.
Every year, Indians mop up about half of the 85,000 H-1B visas.
Abhinav Lohia, Director - South Asia and Middle East, CanAm Investor Services, said, “There is a new level of job insecurity in the US economy. There is a hiring freeze already and any non-essential job postings have already been taken down.”
This, according to him, is what will impact the immigrants. The impact will be felt on two counts, Indian techies who are awaiting their turn for H-1B visa stamping and overseas students who are looking for a job before their Optional Practical Training (OPT) F1 student visa expires.
Students in the US can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) for 12 months before or after completion of their studies. Most students choose OPT after graduation as it gives them one more year to find employers who would sponsor H-1B for them.
With most businesses hit, not many companies will be interested in sponsoring H-1B. “It would not be surprising if they rescind the offer," said an immigration expert. That just leaves the students barely two weeks to find another job before the H-1B application window opens on April 1.
“Getting a job in two weeks, given the circumstances, is impossible,” Lohia said and added that this would mean students returning home without jobs. “From what I am seeing, this will have a ripple effect and we might see a drop in Indian students going to higher studies in the US,” he added.
Studying in the US is a huge financial burden and it would not make sense to apply there when there is no guarantee. Students have to take a loan of Rs 30-40 lakh for masters and close to Rs 1 crore for four year undergraduate programme, plus an interest of 12-14 percent.
"So students might just not go until there is clarity," he added.
H-1B visa and renewals
In case of employees who are waiting for their stamping and others who are looking to apply in the current H-1B window, there is no guarantee if and when their application will be processed.
Take for instance Nimisha K, a techie. She was supposed to apply for H-1B in the April 2020 cycle. “So far things are going as planned, but the client might cancel the requirement anytime. So my fingers are crossed,” she said. For others who are waiting for stamping to be done, they might have to wait a while as some of the US consulates in India have been shut.
In addition to the new visa, H-1B renewals will be an issue. Rajiv S Khanna, an immigration attorney, said that Request for Evidence (RFE) could be a challenge. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services could demand for additional documents for renewing H-1B and in current circumstances furnishing documents could be hard, he added.
Apart from H-1B, investor visa EB-5 will also see a decline on account of COVID-19. Pankaj Joshi, Managing Director - NysaGlobal, said with the US consulate in Mumbai closed, EB-5 visa interviews have been cancelled. “We have several more lined up in the next 30 days and do not know what to expect,” he said and added that the investment advisory firm is expecting processing delays.Most immigration lawyers point out that the situation is very similar to what happened back in the 2008 global economic crisis. “It took three years for the situation to return to normalcy then. But unlike then there is no clarity on how long the situation will last. So we are all bracing for unprecedented impact,” added one of the lawyers.
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