Where do we go from here? US immigration Post-COVID pandemic

Published: May 11, 2020 3:24:31 PM

Almost all states in the US have cancelled in-person classes for universities and advised students to both complete classes and attendance online.

There are many professionals on H1B, students on F1’s who were planning to travel to the US before their jobs or school start and have now been hit with a barrage of uncertainties. (Representative image)There are many professionals on H1B, students on F1’s who were planning to travel to the US before their jobs or school start and have now been hit with a barrage of uncertainties. (Representative image)

By Nandika Handa

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, US immigration has been a topic very close to the heart of many Indian people. It has been for some, an unattainable dream and for others something that they have attained and but now find themselves stranded in India. After the sealing of borders, people in India find themselves unable to travel after getting their legal status well before the Covid-19- pandemic hit and affected immigration and travel.

There are many professionals on H1B, students on F1’s who were planning to travel to the US before their jobs or school start and have now been hit with a barrage of uncertainties. They don’t quite know where they stand.

Almost all states in the US have cancelled in-person classes for universities and advised students to both complete classes and attendance online.

The COVID pandemic has not only delivered a tremendous blow to the world economy, but has also driven the unemployment rates soaring to an unparalleled high in the USA. As a result, the U.Sgovernment is seeking to provide employment opportunities to citizens first through changes such as the temporary immigration suspension by President Trump in April.

More recently, four Republican senators have recommended that the US president suspend all non-immigrant work permits for possibly one year as a remedial measure to address the unemployment that exists now. They have also recommended suspension of the OPT which gives students a window of up to three years upon graduation (depending on their major in the US), during which they can be employed. This has been recommended in order to provide more employment opportunities to American students first.

It has also been recommended by them that unused immigrant visas be recaptured and used for professional nurses and physicians. This might result in up to 40,000 visas granted under this act out of which (25,000 for nurses and 15,000 for physicians). Under normal circumstances, about 65,000 visas are allotted to H1-B professionals and another to 20,000 to graduate students.

All these changes along with those possibly in the pipeline coupled with the stance the government had to immigration before Covidhas led to more insecurity in the minds of people who have ties to the US in terms of their immigration and residential status and seeking answers to what previously would have been their rightful status.

People are unclear as to what the outcome will be when things start moving at a faster pace in the USCIS, presumably in June.

Another set of people who are green cardholders , and are on travel parole or stranded in India have found themselves in a position where answers to their legal questions don’t come easy. They have a host of questions as to how they should handle this situation as they are genuinely unable to travel back.

Most lawyers advise that they keep up with their tax returns, maintain ties to the country in terms of property etc. and also maintain their bank accounts, insurances, credit cards and investments in the US especially during the period they are forced to be away due to current circumstances.

Whilst, this is possible for those who have managed to reach a certain level of success in the US and have acquired wealth therein. Some working professionals and green card holders have recently lost their jobs and are not able to pay their mortgages and insurances now and might not be able to keep up with all these requirements-This is why they are in a position vastly different from what they were at the beginning of this year and their status might just be affected. Lawyers suggest they must prepare for questions at the border when they do re-enter.

Post Covid-19 the US governments response in order to ease the unemployment and pressure on health care through changes to immigration have left those in various cross-sections of society with ties to the US wondering “what now ?“ , “Where do we go from here?”. They have to seek answers that are not easily found in the present scenario. They might have to possibly re-examine life and legal status that they spent blood, sweat and tears building and held not too long ago.

Hopefully, in the coming months, we will have much more clarity on the recent changes to immigration and how long they will last, -are they in response towards the pandemic or will this be a part of the “new normal” and gradually align with policies that have been a very pertinent part of debates on immigration in the U.S.A even before Covid-19 hit.

(The author is an independent US Immigration expert. Views expressed are personal.)

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