Switching from H1B to F1 Visa During COVID-19

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have implemented layoffs, affecting H1B visa holders in the United States.
  • In such cases, it is important to remain calm and understand that the visa remains valid until its expiration date.
  • It is advisable to start searching for a new job and attending online interviews to maximize chances of finding employment before the visa expires.
  • Maintaining legal status is crucial, which may involve switching to a B1/B2 visa or applying for an H1B employer change if a new job is secured. Utilizing an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or transferring to an F1 student visa are also options worth considering.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people on a working visa in the United States have no way of maintaining their status. With so many people being laid off, and so many jobs being closed down, people have found themselves out of work – which means they can no longer maintain their H1B status.

In this regard, when you can no longer put your skills to good use, then you might as well learn something new during the lockdown. With most courses being held online nowadays, you can pursue an education while waiting for the global quarantine situation to be over.

H1B Layoffs and COVID-19

With the virus wreaking havoc all over the world, many companies have been forced into shutting down their activity to prevent the spread of the virus. People are being placed on lockdown and social interactions are no longer recommended as social distancing became a necessity. People are now recommended to work from the safety of their own homes.

Rules became even stricter starting March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump declared a state of National Emergency. Starting then, over the next 30 days with the possibility of extension, certain rules were to be placed in order so that the progression of this virus would be slowed down.

Those who were in the ability to work from home were lucky. However, those that did not have the possibility were left out of work. This led to several COVID 19 layoffs, which affected those that were working in the United States on an H1B visa. The state provided shelter and unemployment insurance relief, but there is only so much that they can do during these times.

What to Do If You’re Laid Off on an H1B Visa

Finding out that you are getting laid off is never ideal to hear – particularly if you are in the United States on an H1B visa and your legal status depends on it. If that unfortunate situation happens to you, you will want to act quickly – and there are quite some things that you might want to focus on.

Keep Calm

If you find out that you were laid off, the first thing that you will want to do is to remain calm – mainly because panicking over things will only make it worse. One thing that you will have to remember is that your visa will remain valid for the time that it was authorized. So, if your visa reaches its expiration date in 6 months, then that’s how long it will remain valid – even though you lost your job.

Start Looking for a Job

While many companies are laying off their employers, others are simply trying to bring in as many people as possible. This is mainly because the pandemic is giving them more work and trouble than they can handle.

In this case, you might want to start looking for jobs and go to as many interviews (albeit, online interviews) as possible. This way, you’ll be maximizing your chances of getting a new job before your current visa expires.

Maintain Your Status

Your visa will remain valid over the mentioned duration – but you will have to prove that you are worthy of remaining in the United States. Here are some of the most common ways you can do that:

  • If your lay-off led to your visa being revoked, then you should immediately switch to a B1 or B2 visa.
  • If you were laid off but your visa has not been revoked, then you need to look for a new job effective immediately.
  • If your H1B visa has not been revoked but you were still unable to find an employer, then you might want to switch to B1/B2 status right away.

Apply for H1B Employer Change

If you do manage to find a new job, then you should make sure that you opt for an H1B employer change right away – and this is a petition that your new employer will have to send. Depending on how long has passed since you were laid off and the current circumstances, the employer change may be accepted – or it may not be. If it isn’t, you will have to return to your home country, at which point you will have to start searching and applying for a new H1B visa.

Use Your EAD

If you previously applied for EAD, then you may continue working in the United States using the EAD status. Granted, you will have to look for a new job – but at least the EAD will extend your stay in the United States and conduct your work there when other visa options are fruitless.

Can an H1B Visa Holder Transfer to an F1 Visa?

Here is some good news for you: if your H1B visa is close to expiring – and you haven’t found a job yet – then you may extend your stay by switching to F1 status, also referred to as a student visa. Not only will this help you improve your skills, but it will also give you enough time to think about your next move while you are in the United States.

How to Transfer to an F1 Visa If You’ve Been Laid Off

If you decide that you wish to attend a college or university on an F1 visa, then all you have to do is gather the right paperwork and pay the necessary fees. The steps are all quite simple if you wish to make the transfer from an H1B to an F1 visa.

  • Get accepted to a college in the United States and make sure that you receive an acceptance letter. Sign the I-20 form in regard to the duration of your stay as a student, and inform the school you have been accepted to of your intention of obtaining a visa status change.
  • Complete the I-539 form and then pay the $370 filing fee at the DHS. Depending on the circumstances, you might also have to pay an $85 fee for biometrics. USCIS will keep you updated for any appointments (e.g. when you need to show up for fingerprints, blood samples, retina scans, etc.).
  • You will also have to pay quite a significant fee, namely the I-901 SEVIS one.
  • Provide financial evidence – in other words, documents that show you have the funds necessary to support your studies during your time there.
  • You will also need copies of various forms such as the I-797, I-94, immigration documents, passport, etc.
  • Gather all these documents in one folder and send them to USCIS.

Considering the situation right now, you might expect more delays than usual – particularly since USCIS offices are closed to the public. In this case, you might want to start applying as soon as possible, allowing you to remain in the States on a study visa if a work visa was not a possibility.

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Final Thoughts

Switching to an F1 visa might be the smart thing to do, particularly if you do not wish to return to your own country. It can also provide the opportunity to hone your skills in a time where work is quite difficult to undergo.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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