Thousands of people move to the Bay Area for a job. Many are from overseas, requiring a visa to live and work in the United States.
But the Government shutdown has closed a service needed to process some of these temporary work visas.
As a result, there are workers who may be forced to leave the country when their visas expire. Others are currently unable to return to the US without the proper documentation.
Computer engineer Paul Chamberlain is heading back to his home country, where he will be waiting for news on the shutdown.
“I’m about to get on a plane to go back to Australia but I have no idea when I can come back and how long I’ll be unemployed for,” Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain has been working in Silicon Valley for a year and half.
“So about a month ago I decided to switch jobs. I knew that would mean getting a new visa because my visa is tied to my employer.”
To continue working here he needs an E3 visa- it’s for Australian workers in specialty occupations. An E3 requires a Labor Condition Application which ensures foreign workers do not displace or adversely affect wages or conditions of US workers.
Acquiring that visa wouldn’t normally be a problem for Chamberlain, but since 80 per cent of the Department of Labor is furloughed, he can’t get it. He won’t be allowed back in the US to work until he can get one.
“My new employer has been very understanding, but it’s very inconvenient because they really need me to start work and I can’t give them any indication of when I could start,” Chamberlain says.
Last year almost 140,000 visas like the one Chamberlain needs were issued for people to work in the US. Most use the H1B including a lot of tech workers here in Silicon Valley.
Immigration attorney Jeptha Evans from McCown & Evans in San Francisco says immigration services are generally open during the shutdown, but “at our firm, we have a lot of people affected actually. It’s surprising, because immigration’s open. We have several people who are waiting on visas outside the US and the employers are here waiting for them,” Evans says.
“We also have people whose extensions are coming up.”
Evans says they may have to leave the US if an alternative can’t be found, such as changing the visa status to non-working or possibly filing a Labor Condition Application with the immigration department.
“It would be totally unprecedented, it’s not the sort of thing they would normally do, but if it really continued on and on and on, it’s one solution,” Evans says.
And Evans says, it’s not just working visas that have been affected.
“Well actually the whole green card process has pretty much come to a halt, at least at the initial phase,” he says.
“The most common way to get a green card is when a company hasn’t been able to find a US worker for a particular position. And they have to show that they’ve tried again and failed because there weren’t any qualified workers and all of that goes through the Department of Labor and even the website is completely down.”
Most immigration services are still available, including US citizenship and passport services. And Consulates overseas will continue to process visa applications as long as funding is available. But some foreign workers in the tech sector may not be able to stay, so long as the Government shutdown continues.