I am an H1B worker. I might get deported, but I am hopeful.
My life in the U.S. took a dramatic turn on a Friday in March when my company’s lawyer informed me that my H1B visa extension had not been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Instead of an approval, USCIS had asked my employer (the sponsor of my visa) to provide extensive evidence to support my petition.
My current status would expire in just weeks—in April. I had very little time to fight a potential deportation. I immediately had numerous questions, which I started to ask my company and company’s lawyer. I wouldn’t get a full response for two weeks.
When they finally responded, the company lawyer informed me that as long as USCIS has not made a final decision (approved or denied), I can stay in the U.S. and continue to work for the same employer for up to 240 days after the expiration date of my current status. The lawyer’s plan, however, was to respond to USCIS’ request for evidence (RFE) by early May. With premium processing, the lawyer said, we should hear from USCIS and know if I am approved or denied within 15 calendar days.
If approved, I could still live and work in this country, a country where I have lived for 10 years, a country where I bought a house six months ago. A country I call home.
However, if the extension is denied, my status would terminate immediately. I would have to leave the country within 30 days. Lawyers usually suggest leaving even faster—within two weeks. Fourteen days to take care of all my affairs, from my relationships to my bank accounts.
I do not wish to dig too deep into “whose fault it is.” Is it the current administration’s fault? Absolutely. The hostility towards all immigrants from the White House is despicable and blood boiling. Is it my employer or the lawyer’s fault? Maybe. They are certainly partially responsible as I know some critical information was never submitted to USCIS. As a talented and experienced international worker, I am sad, furious, and angry. I feel insulted, humiliated, and betrayed by the government. I am also disappointed by my employer and the lawyer.
But we can talk about those later. I can write a thesis about how messed up our immigration system is, if I can survive this crisis.
Now, I want to talk about what has been happening since that Friday. In the gap between hearing my extension had been severely challenged and what the lawyer’s plan was, I knew I had to act.
As soon as I learned about my immigration crisis, I entered survival mode (a state I’m still in now). My immediate thoughts were: 1. seek advice from different lawyers; 2. seek new job opportunities; a new employer would be able to “take over” my H1B and start a new petition for me. I would have to find a new job before a certain date in April, which seemed incredibly hard, but I had to try.
I started to reach out immediately for help. First up: legal advice. I contacted a dear friend who works in law. She called me right back and asked about the whole situation. “Try and get your entire file to me,” she said, “and I will get a second opinion for you.” This turned out to be more complicated than I expected because, fun fact: an employer owns the H1B visa holder’s entire file, even though the file contains a lot of critical, personal information. Unless the employer is willing to share it, the visa holder never sees their file. I was eventually able to convince my employer to send my file to my friend’s law firm. To this day, though, I still don’t have it.
Next, I reached out to my inner circle for advice and job leads. My partner, who was on a long international flight when he received my message, sent me lawyers’ names right away and called me as soon as he landed. Battling sleep deprivation and jet lag, he gave me strategic advice about what to do next, including how to get the employer to commit to supporting me. My close friends, who are top notch in their own professions, started sending me job leads and connecting me to their contacts. Before the end of that week, I had already emailed and talked to numerous people and got leads with an energy company, a business and language service company, an international trade organization, and an agency. I had also received advice from at least five immigration lawyers.
I also reached out to communities I have been involved with, including PDXWIT. 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 lawyers’ names, and some reached out to their own contacts.
Support and encouragement came pouring in, coming from loved ones as well as people I barely knew. The messages varied from the heartfelt—“Hang in there. You’re strong”—to the extraordinary—“You give me a purpose, and I will help you however I can.” One of the more promising job leads came from a person I have never met. They saw my story posted by someone I had just met and offered help.
I have had a few informational interviews in the last few weeks. However, due to the increasingly challenging immigration process, I have not found a company that’s willing to sponsor me. One person at a big tech lab told me, “We’ve lost too many H1B talents in the last year because it’s so hard to get petitions approved now.”
I won’t stop pushing, however. While my current employer and lawyer are trying to get my petition approved with USCIS, I will keep meeting with people and looking for opportunities. I have to stay proactive and positive. I have to keep trying for everyone who’s been supporting and helping me. I also want to use this crisis as an opportunity for international workers like me, as well as other immigrants, to open up and discuss how seriously broken the current immigration system is.
I am still deep in the woods, but I am trying to stay hopeful. As long as I am surrounded and protected by love and support, there is no reason not to be. Please leave your comments below. If you feel comfortable about sharing your own immigration experience as well, please do so. And if you would like, please leave your email. I will be happy to reach out for further discussions.
The author of this post is an H1B worker who has lived in the U.S. for 10 years and is now facing a deportation risk. At a time when H1B denial rates are reaching new highs, her experience is an increasingly common one for immigrants in the tech community here in Portland and across the U.S.
Author’s note: please consult your lawyer(s) if you encounter immigration issues. This article should not be viewed as legal advice. This is an H1B worker’s personal story.