If you are on a work visa (E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1, or TN) in the United States and you lose your employment, you may be wondering what your options are. Losing your job can be a stressful experience, especially if you are in a foreign country and your visa status is tied to your employment. However, options are available to you if you find yourself in this situation. Most importantly, if you lose your job on a work visa, you need to take action quickly, or you may have to leave the country.
Understanding the Grace Period
If you lose your job while on a work visa, you are considered immediately “out of status” in the United States. This is because most work visas in the U.S., including visas in the L, O, H, and TN categories, require the visa holder to be actively employed to maintain lawful status. When an employer terminates or lays off an employee, the employer is generally required to file a withdrawal of the original work visa petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which will alert government officials that the visa holder is now out of status. While you are considered out of status, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to leave the U.S. immediately or that you risk deportation right away.
If sponsored employment is lost, such as being laid off or terminated, there is generally a 60-day grace period for work visa holders to find a new job before they have to leave the country. This grace period is discretionary, meaning that USCIS has the authority to grant it on a case-by-case basis. During this time, you may be able to change your nonimmigrant status, which may include changing your status to another nonimmigrant visa category or to a green card. However, it is important to note that you must file the appropriate paperwork and meet all eligibility requirements before your grace period expires.
Recent USCIS Update Clarifies the 60-Day Grace Period
In December 2022, USCIS issued an update clarifying when the 60-day grace period begins and what you need to accomplish during that time if you wish to stay in the States. According to the USCIS, “The maximum 60-day grace period starts the day after termination of employment, which is typically determined based on the last day for which a salary or wage is paid.” This is true whether or not you received advanced notice that your employment would end.
During the grace period, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status, as mentioned earlier. You may also apply for a new work visa with a different employer as long as the new employer files a new work visa petition on your behalf before your grace period expires. If you cannot find a new job or change your status during the grace period, you may be required to leave the country.
Steps to Take If You Lose Your Job on a Work Visa
If you lose your job on a work visa, there are several steps you can take to protect your status and increase your chances of finding new employment:
1. Understand your grace period: As mentioned earlier, you have a 60-day grace period to find a new job or change your status. Make sure you understand when your grace period begins and ends and what you need to accomplish during that time.
2. Start looking for a new job immediately: The sooner you start looking for a new job, the better your chances of finding one before your grace period expires. Reach out to your network, update your resume, and start applying for jobs as soon as possible. You cannot start working until your new employer petitions the USCIS and receives approval to hire you.
3. Consider changing your status: If you cannot find a new job during your grace period, you may be able to change your status to another nonimmigrant visa category or to a green card. Make sure you understand the eligibility requirements and file the appropriate paperwork before your grace period expires.
4. Consult with an immigration attorney: If you are unsure about your options or need help navigating the immigration system, consider consulting with an immigration attorney. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options and can assist you with filing the appropriate paperwork.
5. Do not leave the country. While you are free to travel or leave the country during this time, the grace period ends if you leave the country, and you will not be able to re-enter the United States without a new visa.
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Losing your job on a work visa can be a stressful experience, but it is important to understand that you have options. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure you understand your grace period, start looking for a new job immediately, and consider changing your status if necessary. With the right approach and a little bit of luck, you can find new employment and continue your life in the United States.
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