The American Dream is a beacon of hope to many around the world – come to America and, through hard work and determination, you can rise above your circumstances and achieve status, wealth, and prosperity. For many migrant workers, however, the novel coronavirus has taken the American Dream and shattered it into the American Nightmare.
Already, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment. However that number likely doesn’t reflect all the H-1B workers who have been laid off. Many, if not most of them, have not filed for unemployment out of fear that receiving unemployment would trigger the public charge rule that took effect in late February.
It’s devastating enough to lose your job due to layoffs, but when you add on the risk of losing H-1B visa status, with little hope of finding a new employer for sponsorship, it’s no wonder that for many foreign nationals, the American Dream is now more of a nightmare.
So if you’re currently on an H-1B visa and you’ve been let go from your job, what are your options if you don’t want to or can’t fly home?
On the one hand you can try to stay in the US on a different visa or, if you’re lucky, with a new employer. On the other hand you can look North to Canada. Yes, unemployment is up in Canada as well, so it’s not like losing a job in the US means you can easily get one in Canada. But Canada just recently said they want to welcome over 1 million new immigrants over the next three years, and there are still companies hiring in Canada, specifically in the tech sector.
First, let’s look at where we are today.
What Unemployment During Coronavirus Means for H-1B Holders
Many US employers have opted to furlough employees in lieu of direct lay-offs so that once the crisis has passed, the American workforce can immediately leap back into action.
Not so for H-1B holders, unfortunately.
Due to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) “no benching” rule, visa holders must maintain continuous employment in order to maintain their visa status: essentially, this rule specifies that an H-1B employee must continuously be paid the wage outlined in their visa petition, until such a time as employment is terminated with the visa sponsor.
Further, when an H-1B’s employment is severed, the 60-day grace period following the final date of employment, precludes the employee from seeking another H-1B job, without the employer sponsoring a new H-1B petition on their behalf.
Here’s a great overview of coronavirus implications on H-1B visa holders.
So as the novel coronavirus continues to have a devastating impact on the US economy, many H-1B workers have found themselves in a unique and precarious situation – stuck between a rock and a hard place. Immigrants who had fully invested in building a life in the US are now unable to work, yet unable to leave. Direct flights are scarce, and pinning together a patchwork schedule of flights leaves many terrified of catching COVID-19. For example, it’s nearly impossible to fly home to China or India.
Yet, for many, staying in the US and continuing their pursuit of the American Dream could mean digging themselves further and further into debt, for example .
Are there options in the US?
With the US Citizenship and Services (USCIS) remaining mostly silent on this topic, it seems that an extended grace period for laid-off H-1B employees (for which there is now a petition) isn’t very likely.
And as the current grace period creeps towards its end for many people, how can a laid-off H-1B worker plan for a future that doesn’t jeopardize everything they’ve built?
One popular option is to apply to university and obtain a Master’s degree or PhD on a student visa. The down side of this is the high costs of going back to school and the fact that, even upon graduation, you would be working on an F-1 student visa and would have to find an employer willing to sponsor you for the H-1B visa lottery all over. On the flipside, however, by the time you obtain another degree, the economy may have recovered enough to yield a more healthy hiring economy.
But even if you decide to apply to graduate school and change status to an F-1 student visa, the danger is that the change of status (COS) petition may not be processed prior to the end of the H-1B grace period. This could mean you risk overstaying your visa and accruing unlawful presence. To avoid accruing unlawful presence, USCIS usually advises foreign nationals to exit the country and re-enter once a COS petition has been processed – however, right now that may not be possible since flights are scarce and in some cases, such as India, inbound flights are totally cut off.
Canada May Be Your Best Bet.
What many H-1B workers, (especially those that work in tech sectors) don’t know, is that by virtue of their technical skills and US work experience, they may be eligible for an equivalent work permit in Canada through a program called the Global Skills Strategy.
In fact, the Canadian federal government recently clarified that work permits are still being issued. So, individuals coming from the US can enter the country, but will need to go through a health check and self-isolate for 14 days, unless exempted.
So, don’t wait until it’s too late – until you’re let go, or if you’re already unemployed, until your 60-day H-1B grace period runs out. Yes, Canada . Not only will Canada’s warm and welcoming immigration system stand in stark contrast to the hostile US system, but you will also advance your career with best-in-class technology jobs.
At Path to Canada, we help tech talent find great job opportunities in Canada and help them settle and apply for citizenship without all the headache of the H-1B and green card process in the US. And while jobs are admittedly more scarce now given the coronavirus crisis we’re in, Path to Canada is committed to helping you find a better life up North.
So visit our website and complete our questionnaire as we work to find those jobs that are available right now, or will become available as our economies reopen for business.