COVID-19 and H-1B Workers: Is Remote Work an Option Amidst Disruptions?

During the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has radically increased its oversight of the H-1B visa, which many tech companies utilize to bring in workers from overseas. Last year, for example, the agency started asking companies about the type of work that H-1B visa recipients will be doing—including things that companies usually like to keep under wraps, including vendor agreements, lists of projects and subcontractors. Such requests for evidence (RFEs) have helped power a rising number of visa rejections, especially for consulting and business-services firms that have been long accused of abusing the H-1B visa system.  

With COVID-19 sweeping the globe, millions of employees are now working from home for the foreseeable future. That’s a complicated situation for many companies, particularly tech firms that, up until a few weeks ago, relied heavily on in-person standups and closely-knit teams. It’s also an extremely confusing time for those companies that lean heavily on immigration in order to secure the talent they need. How will USCIS—and the rest of the federal government—adapt to this new paradigm? Will H-1B workers generally end up working remotely for the foreseeable future, and is that even legal?

As you might expect from a crisis that’s only a few weeks old, there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty. 

In late March, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official had a call with the media to discuss a variety of issues related to the virus, including H-1Bs. This official went unnamed during the call, which was designated as “on background,” but the U.S. State Department issued a transcript afterwards with his name redacted. When asked whether H-1B holders forced to telecommute would have to submit additional paperwork—and possibly face additional challenges from USCIS—this official said:

“We are supporting, across the department, steps for safer working environments in light of the coronavirus, so I would be expecting to see that extended to the terms and conditions enforced with respect to H-1B visas.  But having not dealt with that specific question before, I’d have to defer to USCIS on that.  But again, it’s the same agency making those decisions as I – my previous question, and for those of you who don’t know, I was the [position] of USCIS before I took on the role of the acting deputy secretary for Homeland Security.  So I’m very familiar with that work, and I think you can expect to have a very reasonable consideration from USCIS in all of these sort of circumstances that are only caused by the coronavirus.” 

Meanwhile, other parts of the federal government are issuing guidance for how companies should handle their H-1B workers who abruptly find themselves working from a different location. For instance, the Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a FAQ guide for complying with Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) during COVID-19; in essence, if a worker’s tasks and workflow radically change, or if they work from home for longer than 30 days (which would surpass the parameters of the Short-Term Placement Rule), then the company may have to file an amended petition with USCIS.   

Given the uncertainty and confusion of the moment, things will get even more complicated if tech firms begin laying off H-1B workers. According to Blind, which conducts anonymous surveys of technologists, roughly 57.1 percent of technologists fear layoffs due to COVID-19. Nor are workers at big companies immune; some 37.5 percent of Facebook staffers told Blind that they feared being cut, along with 46.3 percent of Amazon employees. While there’s a “grace period” for H-1B workers who have been laid off, travel and movement restrictions could make things extra-difficult in terms of their next move.

For more COVID-19 content, check out the COVID-19 Jobs Resource Center.

33 Responses to “COVID-19 and H-1B Workers: Is Remote Work an Option Amidst Disruptions?”

  1. Standing on the corner

    In WWII we could create everything we needed in this country. Now, the over reliance on foreigners for essentials (e.g. H1B programmers or Chinese made essential products, India made pharmas) is bringing the USA down. We should have known that blasphemy (living beyond our means, destroying environment, buying more than we need) and greed (Wall Street, Congress and people like Trump mostly) has consequences.

    After this is done let’s hope we still have a country. I sure would hate to see Putin and China still calling the shots.

    • US government for US citizens

      Seems bizarre to attack President Trump. He’s the only person in Washington who has been putting American workers first, and getting pushback from all the Democrats and neocons in Congress and city and state governments, and judges appointed by Democrat and neocon Presidents. Blame all the people pushing back, not the one fighting for us. Look at all of Trump’s policies that benefit you as an American citizen.

      He and Stephen Miller have reformed every aspect of immigration, reducing our legal immigrant quotas by hundreds of thousands per year since 2016, reducing refugees in 2019 by over 80% from 2016, reducing H-1Bs since 2016 like Dice constantly whines about, and giving more funding to ICE and border patrol and the border which has led to more real deportations (not the fake catch and release deportations where being prevented from entering the US counts as a deportation like under Obama that inflated his numbers), all of which reduce foreign labor competition for American workers, lowering unemployment and raising wages.

      Trump has also enacted several economic policies that benefit American workers, from renegotiating or ending bad trade deals like NAFTA and TPP to be better for Americans, to enacting tariffs to punish companies who outsource and encourage a reversal of trade deficits to entice companies to bring their jobs back to America, especially from China, which has also led to new trade deals that benefit America, and large tax cuts for everyone including me, in the working class bracket.

      And on top of all his policies that benefit American workers, his speeches have constantly spread ideas like the need for strong borders, strong immigration controls, bringing jobs back, reducing foreign labor, and China being our biggest threat with their control over our manufacturing and their IP theft, which this pandemic in addition to decades of Chinese government behavior proves him right on everything. And now that he’s made all those ideas popular, they will only influence future politicians more, meaning the nationalist, America-first movement that Trump started will save this country in the future. Trump isn’t perfect, but he’s the best thing to happen to American politics in over 100 years, and his successors will be even better with the momentum he’s created. There’s a reason the globalist-elite-owned media spreads false propaganda attacking him so much. Anyone who is tired of politicians working against the American people needs to support Trump and his entire movement.

      • Srinath

        With 30% unemployment they need to cancel every H1, L1, B1 and anything else. Valid, expired, waiting renewal, all of it, shred the whole thing. We are at war, we are at war within ourselves as well as with bad actors like China and India and all other 3rd world hell holes. BTW a few more of these pandemics, we will be on par with the same hell holes these diseases seem to come from with alarming regularity.

      • Andy R

        As much as I empathize with the feeling of losing the ground under our feet, some of the items in the post are not realistic. Foreign workers can stay > 6 years if they have an approved i140 petition. It is legal. It is painful to not have any options or ability to change professions from data processing and above all lose that sweet income. But education is cheap and all it requires these days is an internet connection and a functioning brain anywhere on the globe to get most data processing done. Come into terms with it, or waste your energy trying to influence corporate/ governments (they have the same soull btw if you don’t know yet.)

    • Are you serious. Outsourcing to India and abuse of L1 visa and H1B started with Clinton. Bush made it much worse as he’s is a clueless dumbass. Barack was so caught up in political correctness. We now have a president who has common sense to understand that we have been taken advantage and bringing jobs back to America. Be thankful for Trump.

    • srinath

      If Putin calling the shots implies its through Trump, then China Calling the shots implies its through the democrats. Trump has been tariffing china to the extent their stock market shrunk by 30% in the time he’s been in office. Of course a lot depends on how he tariffs them now forward, because china has now started WW3.

    • Andy R

      I read every comments under H1B articles Nick posts and it never fails to amaze how misunderstood most of the ‘they got our jobs’ crowd is.
      – Please try to open your eyes to the reality that corporations would do anything to reduce costs and government would always support them.
      – All the rage you see here is due to the loss of handsome income from doing mostly nothing hard (IT jobs are not engineering jobs. If you think low-IQ people are replacing your group, it is a good point to ponder on, why that is even possible) + a dash of tribalism and xenophobia
      – Environments and economy doesn’t care about your feelings and what is “fair”. Most of the idea of what is fair, is derived from the status quo years ago- it is outdated now. You are not entitled to be able to hold on to these jobs forever. Environments change, more people get the opportunity to be educated in IT, supply goes up, wages go down. You can fight the system but chances of winning is slim in this particular case. A better ROI would be to learn the new game and play, than complaining.

    • Standing on the corner

      My brother works in huge brokerage. He says that if Indians programmers and IT decided not to support us, the whole USA banking system would shut down. That is how much dependent we have become on them. The greed of Wall Street and our inept governments have brought this on. I am an older unemployed programmer who although kept up with the latest practices, was laid off by a huge multinational bank so they can hire people in singapore and india. When I worked for them all the support was redirected to India. Americans were not hired unless you were under 30. Now it’s coming back to bite all of them. But do they care? The rich executives will still be rich. And yes we will have a Great Depression but worse. A virus doesn’t care. Greedy Wall Street and inept government brought this on.

    • Your brother in law is simply lying to you. This is done for no other reason than to keep wages down, work on vanity projects with little or no ROI, and keep FTEs from unionizing out of fear of being relaxed with cheap, less skilled in many cases ( though not all of course) labor. It’s a lie all companies participate in.

  2. Anti-H-1B

    Why should AMERICANS care about H-1B? This is the very reason we’re in this situation.
    Be bring in these people and they refuse to conform to our way of life. Why not invest is local talent, cheaper doesn’t mean better knowing they will never get a GC – so you H-1B passivists might want rethink where you loyalties lie….

  3. @Standing on the Corner
    So, WWII was Decades ago. Wall Street has been greedy and allowed to manipulate the rules, also for decades. America has been an ‘over consuming nations’ since probably the 1950’s. And countries like China and India are environmentally negligent. But you still find a way to place blame one the president who’s been solely focused on this country for three whole years.

    I also hope we still have a coherent country in the future. I suspect, though, that this sort of inability to focus on the actual crisis may be the real threat!

      • Donner Partty

        CEG
        Saul Alinsky is that you?
        Not at all!
        What’s occurred the last 50+ years is a partnership between crony capitalism and kleptocracy utilizing Cultural Marxism aka Cultural Communism to balkanize America via liberal social engineering by flooding the country with 2 digit IQ 3 world easily lead sheep & bringing in the higher IQ easily lead sheep from Third World countries like India and China in an attempt to displace the Euro based brilliance That built this country. Those people from China and India don’t innovate; they never have and they never will. The brilliance that is the modern world was achieved by western European brilliance that invented everything & the science behind everything since the 1400s.
        The melting pot concept was just a social engineering construct perpetuated by the cultural communist, like you, as they came in at the beginning of the 20th century.
        You’re lame attempt at using the Rules for Radicals utterly fails!

  4. Brian Quinn

    Visa workers and offshoring. Time’s up. Stop raping the US. This whole mistake was based on greed. While we are at it. Shut down the damn call centers where recruiters automatically ask you to lower your rate then set up a call with a ‘Manager’ that starts by challenging your resume and career. That routine is stale brother. No one is buying your manipulative bullshit anymore.

    • Will Levan

      I agree with you on most everything you say!
      It is past time to end the H1B Visa and all foreign worker programs in the USA and limit employment and hopefully presence in this country more also to those born here in the last 100 years and afterward to legal citizens here.

      I agree with what you have said about India, Singapore, China and to some degree Japan who stole all our electronics alng with the Koreans.

      Time to reinstitute American self reliance on products made in the USA and kick out those not made in the USA.
      To hell with Apple and Motorola and all the others that have gone overseas for the cheap labor and their no taxes or cheaper taxes.
      Either make it in the USA or don’t sell/buy it here and don’t buy it there in any case or from there.

      • Also, don’t buy foreign products made in this country where the net profits go back to the country we fought in WWII. An example is Toyota, Honda Nissan, etc. Buy competently American!!!!!!!!!!

  5. With this pandemic, visa workers should go home to be able to have healthcare that does not make them bankrupt and leave the country owing huge amounts of medical debt. Then, with the unemployment numbers as they are we need to severely cut back on the number of H1b visas granted. They should be the exception, with exceptional skills that are used until the American workers are trained into the positions.

  6. Boomer whytte

    To all the angry patriots to whom mr kolakowski tries to entertain in every dice digest: hope you all are learning due to this pandemic how much all these precious jobs of yours just require an internet connection and a functioning brain anywhere on the globe. Embrace the reality, be ready to be laid off. Wait to see how your dear patriotic corporations are going to milk it after they learn how effective geographic arbitrage and remote work is.

  7. “H1b Go Away” commentary has been going on for years. You all know that!!

    I have asked for 20 years and have been very opinionated about stopping the damn program. But as long as there’s big money to be made in the raping & plundering of the American tech force, it’s gonna keep going on. Period. End of story. Especially by India.

    Does anyone ever wonder what Americans are thinking when they’re working with Indians in almost every company in America??!! As a consultant myself, when walking in to a new client, I see well over half of the other consultants are Indian, makes me feel sick. Not because they’re from India, but because they’re here taking our livelihoods right under our nose!! US companies are slapping us down right in front of them!! AND ITS STILL GOING ON!!!!!

    You can’t blame only the companies. You have to blame US immigration attorneys!! They’re raking in tons and tons of money. So are Washington DC based business lobbyists. These a holes are right in the pockets of politicians.

    Companies, immigration law firms, business lobbies, Indian leaders, Indian businesses, politicians all know damn well that individual American tech workers can’t do a damn thing about it!!!

    If we organize, maybe… a big maybe… do we ever stand a chance! But it would be expensive. Very expensive!! It would take our own lawyers, constant advertising, public commentary, organizers, politicians, staying at the media forefront, and much, much more!!

    It takes people like Nick Kolakowski, who keeps the controversy going constantly. He knows only too well that this has become a rash that can constantly be scratched that raises the ire of American tech professionals. So, Nick writes about it all the time!! It’s a major piss off and a hard slap in the face to Americans.

    Now I ask for the gazillionth time… WHEN IS THIS GOING TO STOP!!??

    • Srinath

      Sadly it is going to get worse. Someone like AOCialist will propose expansion of H1 to “grow the economy”. Immigration brings in democrats. At least till they’re ignorant like I was.

    • We need to explain to everybody we know what the H1B program means. We have to explain to them that the Indian hiring managers hire only Indians, and the Americans are being completely pushed out of the job market, in the whole STEM area.

      All these things were news to all my friends, and some of them work in IT (somehow they had never thought about why jobs are hard to get and why the salaries are going down).

    • This is really true:
      ” You have to blame US immigration attorneys!! They’re raking in tons and tons of money. ”
      If someone working on H1B petitions they knew the education and experience is below par but still file cases for $$fee (The school kids in US are far more intelligent to do all IT jobs).
      Conduct L1 Seminars in India and other countries (works good, both gain new business/show expenses to cut taxes), I think they meet consulate offices on pending cases for approvals etc.
      Time to halt H/L Visa, Cancel H-1 Lottery (I think because only beneficiary pays from his pocket for USCIS fee, so it wont stop forever), Birth Right Citizenship (Pregnant’s even come here on visitor visa too for deliveries, we dont know why 480K people came from China recently, the reason for virus spread per news), Close fake Universities, Double the tax for outsourcing and make only US Born be eligible for government jobs to save the system.

  8. This is a re-post, for those who may have overlooked it:
    President Trump ranks among the great presidents.

    But, because of a secret agreement he made with the foreign Information Technology consulting companies (they all rushed to have a meeting with Mr. Trump in early 2017 – the results were never published), they are still permitted to operate without restriction in our country. They slash rates; they place their people first; they embellish their skill sets; we train them; they come up very short.

    Read no further, if you cannot revive your American spirit to fight!!!

    It is long past time for a peaceful revolution!!!!!!!!!!!! We don’t need to reach a point of playing Cowboys and Indians. A quote from Thomas Jefferson ” I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”

    Professionals, we are in an economic war against we, who created or were involved in the evolution of Data Processing.

    Have you noticed, when the dress code was relaxed from suits, ties and women’s professional dress, that we Data Processing professionals lost importance in the eyes of management. Enter the Indians, who never wore a suit in their lives.

    Are we wimps, who will sit on our posteriors and do nothing, or are we fighters?

    If, you are a do nothing wimp, please, read no further!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    What would you do if we were attacked by a foreign army? Wimp out, or take up arms and kill the SOBs? Hey, throw in a few Molotov Cocktails, etc.

    I am not Paul Revere, but my call to my fellow patroits who, invented or were involved in the creation and/or the evolution of Data Processing (which was renamed to Information Technology by someone) is just as important. This is not a call to arms, but a call to the intelligence of those who created automated Data Processing to rise up and take back our profession.

    The secret ambition of the Indians, is to control the world’s Information Technology. What a disaster that is turning out to be. Ask Boeing, whose stock is worth less than 29% of what it was worth a year ago February. The cheap foreigners wrote faulty software that crashed airplanes and killed people. Boeing, may never recover, after losing public trust.

    Are we boiling angry yet?? I need those boiling angry to proceed further, if not, please exit, thank you.

    Alone, we cannot effect any results. As an angry consolidated group of professionals with a flood of messages/complaints, we may begin to elicit some attention from the righteous, honest person, Mr. Trump on Twitter – @realDonaldTrump

    We who, volunteered or were drafted into the military took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    Friends, we have both types of enemies, those who steal American jobs and those in the very corrupt Congress who benefit from corruption money associated with the H1-B program.

    Mr. Trump is a Twitter fan. All who reads this post needs to pass it to their friends until it goes viral. Ye downtrodden, who have lost jobs to those who came here in the H1-B Trojan horses need to post H1-B opposition statements to Mr. Trump’s Twitter account at @realDonaldTrump. Demand that he abolish the H1-B program and deport the more than 1,000,000 H1-B holders with expired visas.

    Friends, we need a flood of participants in this effort; so much of a flood, Twitter will be overloaded. Also, please consider using other social media to inform the movement of the angry to pelt @realDonaldTrump on Twitter with messages and complaints.

    Patriots, it is time to rise up and throw the “tea” into twitter instead of the bay.

    Americans, we need to rally to action not complacency. Release a tsunami of messages regarding the abolishment of the H1-B program on Twitter.

    Also, you can go to Linkedin, find Indians who came from India (verify location of education, etc.), determine they have been here more than the max of 6 years. Flood Mr. Trump on twitter with the Linkedin references of these individuals with expired visas. The fact they post their job history to Linkedin attests to their level of intelligence. I have done this recently, but I need your help as a group, so a page in Twitter shows nothing but your complaints to @realDonaldTrump

    Even, if Mr. Trump, receives the message(s), I suspect he will not act until after the 2020 election.

    Folks, we have failed to evict the H1-B virus from our country by ourselves. Please consider, working together as a group to make this happen with your messages to Twitter.

    Note: you can use any reference other than your name to establish a tag in an account on Twitter. I learned this from a tag of “An American”.

    Thanks, for your efforts, I look forward to seeing your messages on Twitter. Swoosh.

  9. H1B’s rules always said if you lose your job, get out now. Obama ( you should all thank him And the Democrats) Parting gift to H1B was a 60 day grace If the job was lost. The rhinos are just as bad clamoring to extend more grace to the H1B’s. The H1B contractor companies could keep their visa holders employed by simply paying them a salary, but the greedy bastards want to be able to lay them off and still keep them in the country. The whole scam needs to be shut down, with 30% unemployment this year coming.The idiot college graduates have no idea the wall they’re going to hit enter complicated they have to compete with 1,600,000 H1B’s in the country. Write to whitehouse.gov to bring this to the presidents attention or @realDonaldTrump

  10. Apparently we have zero patriots. I see no tsunami of references to H1-Bs with expired visas, researched on Linkedin that are posted to Twitter – @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. Please read
    JA post April 4, 2020 – above. Thanks.

  11. To all folks abusing H1 visa holders and trying to show them as “criminals”, instead of abusing why dont you guys work hard and replace them with your skills??? But you wont do that because that need hard work.

    Any employer will prefer US citizen over visa holder to avoid cost and hassle of hiring an H1. The reason they hire H1 because they dont find same ability and dedication in USC.
    Remember if an H1 visa holder will lost his/her job due to visa issue, the same employer will either hire them in their India office or outsource that job.

    There any so many H1 visa-holders working as doctor, nurse and other essential areas, why dont you guys deport all of them?