Pitfalls of Failure to Convert H-1B Non-Immigrant Visas

An H-1B visa is in effect for six years, but if you lose your sponsor, it’s imperative to convert to a B or F visa or leave the U.S. Whatever you do, be careful not to accrue illegal presence.

By law, a non-immigrant loses their status when they lose their job. Generally the CIS will give a 1 month grace period for the worker to find another employer sponsor. If this fails to happen, the worker should immediately file for a visitor’s or student visa or return to their home country. A visitor’s visa may be necessary to extend one’s stay to be able to settle financial affairs here. One should file the Form I-539 and explain the situation, and show sufficient resources in the U.S. to stay here.

If applying for a student visa, one must actually study. Simply registering is not sufficient. Schools benefit from a culturally diverse student population, and students benefit from the education.

By converting to a student or visitor’s visa or leaving the U.S., one effectively puts on hold any time remaining of an issued 6 year period on the H-1B visa, and can go back to H-1B status at any time once a new sponsor is found. A non-immigrant worker does not have to enter the H-1B lottery again. According to Houston-based immigration lawyer Annie Banerjee, “By filing for a conversion to the visitor or student visa, or by leaving the U.S., they actually stop the running of the 6-year H-1B clock and preserve the remaining time.”

Houston-based immigration lawyer, Annie Banerjee, is quick to stress another point. “Whatever one does, they have to be careful not to accrue illegal presence. If one has a 6 month illegal presence, they are barred for 3 years, and if the illegal presence is 1 year or more, there is a 10 year bar. These penalties are just not worth the risk.”

On the plus side, there are plenty of H-1B visas available. As of July 3, 2009, the CIS had received only 45,000 applications for their 65,000 per year quota of H-1B visas. Jobs are scarce and that is true especially for non-immigrants, so for those lucky enough to find an employer sponsor, unlike in previous years, there is no lottery.

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