Take charge of your immigration journey

Devendra Singh

Millions of people around the world would like to migrate to the United States, despite reports that President Trump’s policies are scaring people away. Some 158 million, Gallup poll says, want to move to the US, most of them looking for jobs and seeking a new home. The US continues to be the most desired destination country for potential migrants.

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, which has caused a massive spike in unemployment in the US, President Trump has suspended new applications for a number of foreign worker visas until the end of 2020, citing adverse conditions for the US economy. This includes the H-1B limited-term work visa sought by tens of thousands of people every year.

“Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers,” says the order of Trump administration.

The H-1B program gives you an opportunity to become a US citizen. But, it is a very complicated system, often abused by employers at the cost of job loss for the American workers and the exploitation of foreign workers.

Under the US federal immigration law, you have certain rights as an H-1B visa holder, which you need to exercise with a thorough strategy. In your immigration journey, you have to take charge of the whole procedure. For this, you need good advice.

You have the right to have your own attorney represent you in your immigration matters. Choosing your own immigration attorney is the number one power move that you can make in the immigration process. However, if the employer does not agree to let you have your attorney, you can negotiate with your employer access rights to the company attorney.

In exercising your rights as the H-1B visa holder, your strategy matters because your employer being your sponsor may try to take advantage of the situation. Besides, there are many costs and efforts involved in hiring an employee. Employers try to protect themselves against employees trying to quit for a better job.

Before starting work, you must sign your Labor Condition Application (LCA), and keep a copy of the document with you. You have the right to keep your passport, and visa, and travel documents. Your employer must provide you the H-1B Approval Notice and Form I-94. If your employer does not give a copy of certain document, you can file a complaint in the Department of Labor (DOL).

Your employer cannot retaliate for such a complaint or for disclosing possible H-1B violation as retaliation is a huge violation of the law. In fact, your complaint makes it clear that you are not part of the violation, it protects you. 

Your salary must be at least what is specified on your LCA. It should be equal to the prevailing wage or at least at the same wage rate as paid to the other US employees with similar experience and qualifications, without regard to their nationality. Your working conditions should be the same as that of the US employees. You must have the same work hours, shifts, vacation, and sick leave, like any other US worker.

You cannot be benched and your salary cannot be reduced or suspended because of non-productive time caused by the employer, or by the lack of a license or permit. Employers can pay you less only if they file an amendment and you agree to it, and the salary is equal to the prevailing local wages.

You have the right to buy a house in the US, you can invest in stocks and you can study part-time. You can also have other employers file a new H1-B visa for you so that you can work part-time for them. You have the right to start your own company, but you cannot be actively employed in your own company. You cannot be self-employed on an H-1B visa.

You have the right to keep everything in writing and you must keep all the copies given to you at the immigration. You should keep redacted copies of all your work products. If a key official matter is discussed orally, send an email to the employer regarding the conversation, summarizing the main points discussed.

You must,

–  Get a copy of all official documents that depict your status and position in your place of work, including the I-797 and I-94.

–  Have a copy of any other legal document that talks of your eligibility to stay, work, and receive remuneration for the work performed.

–  Have a copy of your employer’s documentation regarding their intent and role in employing you as a foreigner.

You are free to quit work and seek another employer as long as they are able to legitimately sustain and support your H1-B visa status. This is true only if your contract allows you the freedom to break the contract without penalty. Else you will be violating the terms of the contract.

Finally, you have the right to apply for a Green Card and request an ‘Adjustment of Status’.