What is the Fate of the Non-Citizen Workers and Students Amid COVID-19?
Much has changed in the United States since COVID-19 has rocked the globe. The employment market is facing record-breaking decline, and unemployment numbers are anticipated to reach Great Depression levels. There is no question that this pandemic has changed a multitude of aspects of our daily lives. Specifically, as it pertains to immigration law, there is movement within Congress to suspend specific types of employer or work visas in an effort to keep opportunities for citizens just that: Opportunities (solely?) for U.S. citizens. But where does that leave the often-essential non-citizen workers and students?
According to the Economic Times, a handful of U.S. Senators have requested that President Trump suspend the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which permits foreign Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students to work in the United States, for three years post-graduation, along with the EB-5 investor program and all other non-immigrant work permits for at least a year, or until the unemployment numbers return to some sense of normalcy.
Under normal circumstances, should an H1-B visa holder lose their job, they have only days to obtain alternative employment. Within 60 days, if unsuccessful at obtaining proper employment, they may be deported. In a robust job market it's plausible for a candidate to secure an equitable position within that timeframe. However, in this type of economic environment caused by a global pandemic that has resulted in mass layoffs and an excess of available talent, the possibility of deportation is even more acute for some guest workers and OPT student hires.
While simultaneously and potentially shutting the door to hundreds of thousands of STEM workers and students in the OPT program, the same Senators are requesting that those same rules are “eased to allow more doctors and nurses to come in to bridge a shortage of health professionals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In an effort to stave off unnecessary and debilitating deportations, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”) has requested of the USCIS to extend the grace period from 60 days to 90 days. In all reality, a 90-day extension seems quite reasonable. As of today, there is no confirmation of any extensions from the White House.