H-1B Visas: US Shutdown Threatens the Status of Contractor Employees

January 28, 2019
Employees of Federal contractors, on H-1B visas, have a risk of deportation if they receive the termination orders for lack of work.

• Contractors still need to pay the employees, even when they do not work, or terminate them. The other scenario is to pay a stiff penalty.

• An exodus of H-1B workers on a big scale will lead to a huge brain drain, in the IT domain.

H-1B Visas: US Shutdown Threatens the Status of Contractor Employees

The Happenings

The shutdown, when it resumes on the Feb 15 deadline as per the bill approved by Senate to reopen the government temporarily, is causing a dilemma for many USA federal contract workers on H-1B. Furthermore, there is a worry even in other nonimmigrant visa holders.

Resembling many other people working for federal contractors, these employees presently are not receiving any payment in the shutdown. Only the persons who have a paid leave benefit. This presents many financial difficulties and is a great threat to immigration status.

Employers have to pay minimum wages 

Furthermore, the reason here is that the U.S. immigration law requires the employers of H-1B workers to pay them the minimum necessary wage, or the current wage, or also the in-house wage of the employer for similar employees, whichever is high. The employer has an obligation to pay the guaranteed minimum hours as per the applications of the H-1B employees, even in case they do not a work to do. Furthermore, in case of not complying they have to incur a   monetary penalty.

The option before the contractors to avoid the penalty is to terminate H-1B employees to whom they cannot afford to pay. The next step is canceling the H-1B petitions with USCIS. Moreover, in this case, the workers face complexity as they cannot remain in the USA unless they have employment.

The situation

The nonimmigrant workers on H-1B get 60 days after termination to find a job. This is impossible because many federal contractors are not hiring for the reason of shutdown. They can also change to a different status in immigration like the F-1 student visa after seeking admission in a school. Finally, if there is no choice, the workers have to leave the USA.

Facing the dilemma

Companies are realizing to understand that the current situation will remain for another month. If that happens, they have to worry regarding the next step to take.

Hundreds of federal contractors and 15,000 contractor employees are presently facing this dilemma. Employees not having any work will have to return to their home country on unpaid leave until the reopening of the U.S. government happens. This is a serious risk.


Firstly, when this happens, workers can return if the visa has not expired. On return, they face hard-hitting questions from immigration officials who are likely to consider them to be on termination and not on unpaid leave. Leaving the country has the risk of not gaining a reentry. Moreover, people on H-1B visas possess great skills in the domains of Research, IT, and engineering. They can stay at home or migrate to another country also.  All companies have to decide how to use their talent or succumb to a brain drain.

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