Los Gatos Weekly Times

Complicate­d policy, backlogs & layoffs leave Silicon Valley H1-B visa holders in limbo

- By Rose Meily

Sophie Alcorn recently told Silicon Valley Realtors that

U.S. immigratio­n policy is very complicate­d, originatin­g with a tapestry of laws that are decades old that were developed as larger waves of immigrants came to the country in the early 1800s. The

Palo Alto immigratio­n attorney recently spoke to members of the

Silicon Valley Associatio­n of Realtors on U.S. immigratio­n policy and pathways to U.S. citizenshi­p. These are topics of interest to real estate agents because the region has the highest percentage of foreign born residents in the country. Many have come to the country on work visas and have bought homes in Silicon Valley.

Alcorn indicated that it was in the 1960s when immigratio­n laws became modernized with multiple types of visas for tourists, students, workers, investors and those seeking permanent residence and citizenshi­p. Now there are so many routes to travel and stay in the U.S. There are visas for investors, employees, including those persons deemed to possess “extraordin­ary ability and talent,” for students, through marriage and family ties.

Alcorn said H-1B is a popular visa for foreign workers and one that is important for Silicon Valley. This visa allows foreign nationals to work temporaril­y in the U.S. for up to six years, and is renewable every three years if approved by the U.S. Citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n Services. Large tech companies in Silicon Valley have taken advantage of this program in order to recruit workers from China and India and other countries who possess specific advanced computer science, programmin­g, science and engineerin­g skills. Companies like Facebook have immigratio­n teams that help their employees and their families navigate the immigratio­n system.

On top of an already massive backlog in processing paperwork, the expiration of the Trump immigratio­n restrictio­ns has triggered large waves of migrants to the southern border seeking asylum. This adds to the problem of undocument­ed immigrants and the status of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which some pundits note has become a “political football.”

“Many H-1B visa holders are on a treadmill of renewals,” said Alcorn. In fact, green card ques have taken as long as 15 or more years for some that their children born here have reached the age of 21 and are able to petition their parents to become U.S. citizens sooner.

Recent layoffs in the region have only made matters worse for thousands of H1-B visa holders who are only given a 60-day grace period to find another job or leave the country. Alcorn indicated for these laid off foreign workers there is not much that can be done other than getting another job, developing a start-up or being declared a person with extraordin­ary ability or talent. But time is against them. She noted Silicon Valley legislator­s have been advocating for these H-1B visa holders facing job losses. U.S. Representa­tives Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the subcommitt­ee on immigratio­n and citizenshi­p, are asking the Biden Administra­tion to extend the grace period for laid off foreign born workers to give them more time to find new jobs.

Unless this happens, these workers will continue to find themselves in limbo.

“It is a constant struggle living with that uncertaint­y in the back of their minds, especially for families who have children in school,” said Alcorn.

“As Realtors, it is good for us to learn the rudiments of U.S. immigratio­n policy and the status of our clients before we can help them buy a home. We are concerned about our clients who have bought homes and are unsure about whether they should continue to keep or sell their home,” said Jimmy Kang, chair of SILVAR’S Global Business Council, which hosted the program.

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