Amid massive nation-wide layoffs related to the coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands of signatures have been added to an online petition asking the administration of President Donald Trump to give holders of the controversial H-1B visa longer to find a new job before having to leave the U.S.
Under rules for the H-1B, workers laid off before their visa terms expire have 60 days to find comparable employment or they must leave the country. The petition to the White House, which had almost 50,000 signatures by Thursday morning, calls for extending that grace period to 180 days because coronavirus is ravaging the economy.
“The economic conditions may have a significant impact on H-1B workers,” said the petition, which was started March 19. “Most H-1B workers are from India and cannot travel home with children who are U.S. citizens as many nations announced an entry ban, including India.”
The petition, created by someone with the initials “A.N.,” needs to hit 100,000 signatures by April 18 to prompt a response from the Trump administration, according to White House rules.
The Trump administration has targeted the H-1B program, dramatically increasing rates of visa denials for information-technology staffing companies and outsourcing firms. Silicon Valley tech giants rely heavily on the visa and push for an expansion to an annual 85,000 cap on new H-1Bs. Critics point to reported abuses and argue that staffing firms, outsourcers and major tech companies use the visa to supplant U.S. workers, drive down wages and facilitate outsourcing of American jobs.
The visa is also used to bring in qualifying foreign doctors and nurses.
An analyst for a group called Progressives for Immigration Reform, which opposes what it calls “high-volume immigration,” said Thursday that extending the H-1B grace period would mean “another 180 days that under-employed U.S. tech workers will have to compete with immigrants in an extremely difficult employment market.”
American citizens “must come first, especially in this period of high and ever-increasing unemployment,” Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst Joe Guzzardi said.
Under H-1B rules, employers are on the hook for “reasonable costs” of returning workers to their home countries if their jobs are cut before their visa periods are up.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration did not immediately respond to questions about whether a grace period extension is under consideration, whether employers will be liable for the cost of sending home any workers laid off because of coronavirus, or whether the agency’s “extreme situations” policy applies to the coronavirus pandemic and allows officials to exercise discretion for H-1B holders applying for visa extensions because of “extraordinary circumstances” beyond their control.