Anxiety brews among work visa holders as thousands continue being laid off due to COVID-19

Anxiety brews among work visa holders as thousands continue being laid off due to COVID-19

BOSTON — The novel coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the economy, and as a result, thousands of workers are being laid off. But, if you’re here on a work visa, losing your job means you could lose your ability to stay in this country.

Typically, immigrants on a work visa are sponsored by their employer, who pays for the legal fees, paperwork and everything in between. If they decide to leave that job or lose it somehow, finding another one isn’t that easy - they need to find a job that’s also willing to continue to sponsor their visa.

When a Boston woman was given the devastating news she had been laid off, she turned to her LinkedIn account to ask for help.

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It’s with an incredibly heavy heart that I have to add to the growing list of posts about people affected by COVID-19," the young woman said in her post. “I’m currently an international student, losing my job at a critical time like this could mean effectively ending my career in the U.S. due to visa regulations.”

Like so many, this woman’s future - which may have seemed so certain prior to the pandemic - has now been turned upside down and turned into an immigrant’s worst nightmare.

“If you’re a foreign worker and you’re laid off, your ability to remain in the United States goes away," said Phil Curtis, a Boston immigration attorney.

There are about one and a half million people in the country on a visa. According to Curtis, right now there aren’t many options for them if these workers are laid off.

“Now is there any kind of an appeal process or any kind of legal recourse that someone in that situation can take?” said Curtis. “If the job goes away that’s not a legal thing, that’s just an unfortunate circumstance, so there’s no way to appeal it.”

The government will usually give people about 60 days to find another job before their immigration status becomes an issue. Curtis suggests that, if you find yourself in this predicament, retain a lawyer as soon as possible and review your options, like going back to school or seeing if other visa categories may apply to you.

But, most importantly, use those 60 days to make yourself as desirable as possible to an employer.

“The one thing to do is to make yourself as attractive as possible to a subsequent employer,” said Curtis. “That’s your reason for being here, so that’s what you should do.”