H1B Layoff: What to Do if You Get Laid Off Because of COVID-19

Posted by Frank Gogol

The effects of COVID-19 have been and are being widely reported. From issues with healthcare to stifled economic growth, the virus’s effects have reached far and wide. 

One of the areas impacted most by COVID-19 is the U.S. job market. As of April 3, 2020, more than 700,000 jobs have been lost and the U.S. unemployment rate has gone up to 4.4% in a few short weeks since the pandemic broke out. 

The loss of a job, for anyone, is dire. A loss of income has a quick and large ripple effect on every aspect of a person’s life, from being able to pay rent to being able to eat. 

A layoff is even direr for a visa holder. In addition to the items mentioned above, the loss of a job for a person on a visa can result in having to leave the U.S., something that’s all the more difficult amid Coronavirus travel bans.

Below, we’ll discuss what you should do if you are laid off while on an H1B in the U.S. because of COVID-19. Read on to learn more. 

5 Steps to Take Immediately After an H1B Layoff

Being laid off from your job is never ideal, especially if you’re on a visa in the U.S. But if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it’s important to act quickly. There are three things, in particular, that you should start acting on.

1. Remain Calm

The first thing you need to do if you’re laid off while on an H1B is remain calm. Even though the situation is bad, panicking will only make it worse. One good thing to focus on is the fact that your visa will remain valid for the period it was authorized for. So, if you were set to renew your visa in six months, your visa is still valid for six months, in spite of the layoff. 

2. Look for a New Job

The next thing you need to do when you are laid off is to start looking for a new job immediately. As mentioned above, your visa will be valid until it’s the expiration date, but with every day that passes, you’ll get closer to being forced to leave the U.S. So you’ll want to start applying and interviewing as soon as possible to maximize your chances of acquiring a new job before the expiration. 

3. Maintain Your Legal Status

Though your legal status will still be valid for the duration of your visa, you will still need to make a show of faith effort to stay in the U.S. There are a couple of things you can do to do this:

  • If your H1B was revoked by your employer when you were laid off, then you will need to file for a B1 visa or a B2 visa immediately. 
  • If your H1B was not revoked, you will need to find a new employer and file a change of employer petition. 
  • If your H1B status was not revoked but you cannot find a new employer, then you should apply to change to B1/B2 status immediately. 

4. Apply for an H1B Employer Change

If you are able to find a new job after your layoff, make sure your new employer submits for an H1B employer change immediately. That petition has three potential outcomes:

  1. The H1B employer change will be approved
  2. The H1B employer change will be denied, meaning you will need to leave the U.S.
  3. USCIS may approve the H1B petition, but deny the application to change employers

In that final scenario, it’s likely that USCIS will have determined that too much time has passed since you were laid off. If this scenario, USCIS will issue the Notice of Approval and you should depart the U.S. From there, you may:

  • Travel outside the U.S., then return using your original H1B and your new Form I-797
  • Apply for a new H1B visa if your old visa has expired

5. Use EAD to Continue Working in the U.S.

If you have previously applied and been approved for EAD, you may continue to work in the U.S. using your EAD status. You will still need to find a new job, but the EAD status is a viable option for extending your work period in the U.S. 

In some instances, you may need to have your new employer submit a new labor certification and visa petition on your behalf. 

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Next Steps

Losing a job is never easy, especially for an H1B visa holder in the U.S. Losing your job amid the current COVID-19 outbreak is even worse. But it’s not a hopeless situation. You’ll need to act fast and secure new work to avoid being deported, but it can be done. 

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