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Extend 60-day grace period for H-1B holders, share layoff data: Lawmakers to USCIS

New York, April 13 (IANS) Amid the massive ongoing layoffs in the tech sector, a group of lawmakers from Silicon Valley has written to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) enquiring about the federal agency’s efforts to ensure highly-skilled H-1B visa holders can remain in the country after losing their jobs.

With a bevy of employees laid off across tech giants including Microsoft, Google, Meta, in the past couple of months, the H-1B visa holders have been left in a limbo with a mere 60-day grace period to find another job, or leave the country.

“This group of immigrants possesses skills that are highly valuable in today’s knowledge-based economy and forcing them to leave the US is harmful to our nation’s long-term economic competitiveness,” the lawmakers wrote.

“This issue is of great importance to our constituents because layoffs in the tech sector have accelerated in recent months. The number of tech jobs lost since the beginning of 2023 has already surpassed the total number of layoffs in 2022,” they said.

The lawmakers urged the USCIS to extend the 60-day grace period for laid-off H-1B holders to secure a new job before losing their legal status.

They also requested that USCIS release data detailing the impact of the layoffs on affected immigrants, and inquires about whether the agency has issued guidance to adjudicators in response to the layoffs.

The USCIS had earlier stated that extending the grace period would require a lengthy rulemaking process that would take too long to benefit immigrants who are currently at risk of losing their legal status.

“While we understand that such a change may take time, we nonetheless urge USCIS to pursue an extension of the grace period, either as a standalone regulatory change or as part of a broader effort to reform the H-1B program,” the letter read.

The lawmakers said that extending the grace period will strengthen the country’s ability to retain immigrant talent in the future.

The USCIS recently said that the sacked H-1B workers have multiple options to stay in the country, and it is wrong to assume that they have no option but to leave within 60 days.

The number of tech jobs lost since the beginning of 2023 has already surpassed the total number of layoffs in 2022.

With the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank causing further disruptions in the tech sector, the lawmakers said they feared that the trend would continue.

Led by Representative Anna G. Eshoo, the letter was signed by Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna, Zoe Lofgren, former Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Representatives Jimmy Panetta and Kevin Mullin.

It sent a list of five questions to the immigration agency requesting it to respond by May 5.

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that permits US companies to hire foreign workers in speciality occupations, which require theoretical or technical expertise.

It is the most sought-after work visa among foreign professionals, including Indians.

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