I am an H1B worker and I may get deported.
By Ruth Lesser
I am an immigrant. I have been living in the U.S. for 10 years. I have been an international professional for almost 7 years. I am in line for a Green Card. And I may get deported in May.
My life in the U.S. took a dramatic turn on a Friday in March - my H1B extension did not get approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and they asked for extensive evidences to support my petition from my employer (sponsor). My current status expires in April. I had very little time to fight this.
Fast forward a little. Two weeks (yes, TWO weeks) after the USCIS notice, the company’s immigration lawyer finally informed me that although my current H1B status will expire in April, as long as USCIS has not made a final decision - approved or denied, I am able to stay in the U.S. and continue to work for the same employer for up to 240 days after the expiration date. However, the lawyer’s plan is to respond to USCIS’ request for evidence (RFE) by the beginning of May and with premium processing, we should hear from USCIS and know if I am approved or denied within 15 calendar days. In other words, from the expiration date, I will have to wait for 3 to 4 weeks to be told if I am still allowed to live and work in the U.S., a country I have lived in for 10 years, a country I call home. If denied, my status would terminate immediately and I would have to leave the country within 30 days. But lawyers usually suggest leaving within two weeks. Two weeks! I would have two weeks to take care of ALL my affairs and matters, my relationships and bank accounts. Did I mention I just bought a house in August 2018? I had only been a homeowner for 6 months!
From the moment I learned about the danger of me being deported, I started to reach out to friends, lawyers, and companies for general advice, legal advice, and job leads (a new sponsor could help me out even though the timeline was incredibly tight).
As we get closer to my expiration date, here is what I have learned in the last few weeks.
Disclaimer: please do not take any of these notes as legal advice. They are what I have learned and are my interpretation of my situation. Please consult your own lawyers. These notes are for your reference. They may be useful. But they are not legal advice.
I, or any H1B beneficiary, have no legal right over our own files. I wanted to see my own applications and I was told unless the employer (sponsor) is willing to share, I will never have access to paperwork that shows my history, my background, my work, my life, etc. If you, an H1B beneficiary, have seen your own file, congratulations, your employer is considered generous
The immigration lawyer whom my employer works with has no obligation to me, the beneficiary. After seeing this terrifying message from the lawyer: “this is very bad… the USCIS could revoke her I140 (critical to my Green Card process)... we might have to refile...” Naturally, I panicked, because the lawyers did first. I wrote the lawyer back, twice, to ask questions. Naturally, I should have questions, because I am the person at risk of being deported here. But the lawyer wrote this back: “Please do not email anymore.” So if you, an H1B beneficiary, have a lawyer who’s patient and willing to answer your questions, congratulations, this lawyer is not a robot and is an actual human being who’s not cold-hearted, but is sympathetic and empathetic
In a situation like this, it usually is not that useful to hire a personal immigration lawyer as the company immigration lawyer does not have to share the beneficiary’s file with a personal immigration lawyer. I consulted at least 5 different immigration lawyers so far. The advice I received was almost the same: work closely with the company lawyer, give your employer as much as pressure as you can, make them do the right thing, etc.
Since the current president (I refuse to use his name) took office, the approval rate for H1B petitions (including extension petitions, which is what my case is) has dropped significantly. USCIS treats all applications as “first time petition”. They don’t care if it is just an extension. They look at them as if the beneficiary had never worked in this country before.
Because of #4, many companies became extremely reluctant to sponsor foreign workers. One good example is the response from a used-to-sponsor-a-lot company: “The big challenge is getting her visa extended – that is (unfortunately) a months-long process. The current presidential administration has made visa extensions challenging, and extremely time-consuming. With April just a few weeks away, it’s highly unlikely our recruiting team would want to engage her. I’ve basically been told they will not work with any candidate who is on an H1B or visa extension that is less than a year from renewal/expiration, because we’ve lost too many candidates who can’t get their visa renewed.” - Imagine that. Imagine how many people’s lives have been, and are being altered, twisted, even destroyed because of this administration. Also, how is it possible that NO ONE talks about it when there are so many people getting denied by USCIS? Is it all because of fear?
Try your best to find a sponsor that’s transparent from day one and is willing to commit to helping you through crisis like this. Although the communication between the lawyer has been difficult, I managed to acquire some information I had never had before. For example, some of the missing information on the RFE was not supposed to be missed. The lawyer indicated that years ago, she asked the employer to provide certain company information to support my petition but the employer declined. The lawyer never told me this before because we were lucky enough to pass. Not anymore. The lawyer advised the employer, years ago, to submit certain company information so that the immigration officer would not challenge my petition as they are now. But they wouldn’t listen.
This is perhaps the most important takeaway for me from this outrageously and ridiculously challenging crisis: you are not alone. As soon as I understood how bad my situation is, I reached out to my inner circle and network. My person, who was on a long international flight and very sleep deprived when received my message, sent lawyer names right away and called me as soon as he landed and gave me strategic advice about what to do next. My close friends, who are top notch in their own professions, started sending me job leads and connecting me to their contacts. I also reached out to communities I have been involved with, including LGP. They all helped me in their own ways: some gave me a list of companies I should reach out to, some provided a thorough review of my resume and told me how to quickly highlight my achievements, some sent me more lawyer names, and some reached out to their own contacts.
I have been on “survival mode”. Everyday, every hour even, can be critical to my life. In such an intense state, I would not have lasted long without loved ones, friends, and friends’ friends. “Hang in there” “You can go through this” “I will help you in anyway I can” “You are so strong” “We love you and support you” “We can do it”... In fact, one of the more promising job leads is from a person I have yet to meet. They saw my story posted by someone I had just met and offered help. I also had someone who just lost her mother and had to travel across country, telling me: “You give me a purpose and I will help you however I can.
I have not found a company that’s willing to sponsor me due to #4 and #5. But I can’t stop here. While the lawyer is working with the employer to collect materials - she finally said “this case is extremely important”, I will keep talking to people and looking for opportunities, for I have to stay proactive and positive and for I have to keep trying for everyone who’s been there for me. I also want to use this crisis as an opportunity for international professionals like me, as well as other immigrants, to open up and discuss how seriously broken the current immigration system is.
To provide some additional perspective, read Forbes’ piece, “New Data Show H-1B Denial Rates Reaching Highest Levels“
Writer’s note: The writer's case is still progressing and we may have updates as this event unfolds. If you would like to discuss this further with the writer, feel free to send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.