Among the measures the U.S. is taking to battle the coronavirus, it has restricted international travel to certain countries. These restrictions present many difficulties as several U.S. nationals find themselves quarantined in countries like Italy. Foreign workers in the United States on an H-1B or L-1 visa may find themselves similarly stuck, or even out of status with their visa, due to their employing companies converting their workforce to work from home.
Since visa denials have reached historic highs under the Trump administration, this means that many of these U.S. employees are in the country illegally, but without any means to leave. This inherently contradictory state requires law enforcement and businesses to find a more flexible middle ground.
Creative solutions to complex problems
Many visa applicants with a compromised status are finding success by resubmitting amended petitions to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). The amendments include a request for an excuse because of travel restrictions or if the worker would depart to a country where the virus is widespread. USCIS has also said it does not plan to conduct site visits to workplaces that have temporarily closed.
For H1-B workers who have reached their 6-year limit, they may request a voluntary departure from their visa. They are not authorized to work during this 30-day reprieve but could remain in the country lawfully.
International students are facing a similar situation, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is also exercising flexibility. ICE is encouraging employers to offer alternative methods of sustaining training agreements so students will remain compliant. ICE is also no longer requiring prior notice of these procedural changes, only that they receive notification of the change within 10 days.
Firmer footing for many
Altogether, these efforts highlight a more forgiving environment for businesses and their international employees. When government agencies can afford to take a global perspective on these complicated matters, American companies and their employees stand to benefit. At the very least, these measures will help keep more people safe and protected.