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Relief for H-1B workers stuck in India as US consulates start issuing visas

With the five US consulates in India starting to processing H-1B visas from August 17, many are heaving a sigh of relief. However, the new entry norms by US authorities have created some confusion for others.

August 27, 2020 / 04:17 PM IST

Sandeep K* recently got his H-1B visa approved within two weeks of applying in an US Consulate in India. S Mythili* got her H-4 visa approved after being away from her husband since January this year.

With US consulates in India starting to process visas on an emergency basis since August 17, the anxiety among the NRI community is waning. Many of them have been stuck here because of COVID-19 and the visa ban announced in June 22.

In India, the US has consulates in Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Kolkata.

Change in norms help some, confuse some

This relief came after a new set of guidelines were issued by the US Department of State, allowing H-1B workers and their dependents entry into the US under certain conditions.

Two such conditions are that they are allowed entry if they are joining their previous (company they were working in before they came to India) employer before the ban or if they want to work in critical areas such as healthcare. It also allowed the entry of such H-1B dependents into the US.

Take Sandeep’s case. He is not joining his previous employer and will be working in a new company in the healthcare space in a senior role. He got his emergency appointment (EA) approved within two weeks. Mythili got her H-4 visa approved under the with ‘family separation’ category as her husband is still in the US with a valid visa/

Though it does come as a relief, many of the thousands stuck in India are still confused. Madan*, an H-1B tech worker, is joining a new company in a senior position. According to the new guideline, those who are in senior positions will have to prove that their service is necessary.

Madan already has a letter from his employer but is not sure what more would be necessary to “prove” his need to be in the US. He is in touch with his employer and others like Sandeep to get a better understanding on how best to proceed.

Stuck in the US

If the tech workers in India are figuring out the best way to get their visa approved, for those in the US, things are not better. In fact, it is worse due to COVID-19.

While those who have got their H-4 Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) approved would now be able to work as per the recent guideline, many who are awaiting approval might have to wait at least a year. This means they could still lose their jobs or the right to stay in the US.

Though the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently cancelled the furlough of its 13,000 employees, it warned of longer visa processing time. This delay is clearly reflected in the processing time for petitions available on its website.

According to the USCIS site, the processing time to get an EAD approved is 14-18 months for an H-4 dependent. To extend their stay as a dependent, what used to be few months could now take 14-18 months. According to Bhavana K*, a dependent, it was 2-4 months earlier. The H-4 visa has a three-year validity.

All these are impacting the mental and financial well-being of Indians in the US, many of whom have already lost their jobs. Janaki S*, who had to move to India after she and her husband lost jobs, is not sure about returning as the uncertainty around immigration looms.

*names changed on request

Swathi Moorthy
first published: Aug 27, 2020 04:16 pm