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The Importance of Maintaining Status When Laid Off

Contributed by : Tahmina Watson
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The recent economic downturn has resulted in a noticeable increase in the number of people being laid off from work. However difficult such circumstances may be practically and/or emotionally, if you are in the United States on a work visa, particularly on an H1-b visa, there are some important things to know.

Straight to the point, if you are on an H1-b visa and you are terminated from your job, you are immediately out of status. That means you have no legal status in the US. Many people have the misconception that they retain legal status for 10 days after termination.

I am sorry to inform you that this is not true; if you are on an H1-b visa and you are terminated or laid off from your job, your legal immigration status is also terminated immediately.

So, what are the options? Option number one is to leave the US immediately. However, this can be very difficult. Even if reasonable notice is provided, many of my clients have been living in the US for several years, have accumulated assets, have children who attend school, and have other life matters that must be resolved before they can pack up to leave the country.

Therefore, a more viable second option may be to change status. If you are lucky enough to have a spouse on a valid non-immigrant visa then you may be able to change to a dependent status, e.g., an H4 or F2 visa. Granted, you may not be able to work on that visa, but you can continue your life in the US and hopefully find another job soon enough.

But what if you are not so lucky? In that case, you must change to a B1/B2 visitor visa. By doing so, you are essentially buying some time to either wrap up your affairs in the US or to look for another job. Current processing times (as of May 19, 2009) are showing that the government is taking approximately three months to process change of status (COS) petitions. You therefore have at least three months to search for a job and submit a COS petition again to ''''port'''' your original H1-b.
This is a stressful situation. However, in the face of such difficult circumstances, my advice is not to waste any time in applying for COS. It is important to keep your immigration status legal so as not to adversely affect your future immigration status.

The risks are significant. For instance, if you are out of status for 180 days or more, you will face a three-year bar from returning to the US. If you are out of status for a year or more, then you will face a ten-year bar from returning. Therefore, please be mindful about maintaining legal immigration status even under the difficult circumstances that a job loss can bring.

Tahmina Watson is the founder of Watson Immigration Law based in downtown Seattle. She was a practicing barrister in London, UK, before immigrating to the United States herself. Tahmina has been practicing exclusively in the area of US Immigration and Naturalization law since 2006. More information about her can be found at www.watsonimmigrationlaw.com. She can be contacted directly at 206-856-3808 or email her at tahmina@watsonimmigrationlaw.com.

About Author
Tahmina Watson is an immigration attorney and founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle Washington. She was a practicing barrister in London, UK, before immigrating to the United States herself. While her practice includes family-based and employment-based immigration, she has a strong focus on immigrant entrepreneurs and start-up companies. She can be contacted at tahmina@watsonimmigrationlaw.com. You can visit www.watsonimmigrationlaw.com to learn about Tahmina and her practice.

Website: www.watsonimmigrationlaw.com


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