COVID-19 and O1 Visa
UPDATE: unemployment insurance is now available for gig workers (independent contractors/freelancers). Check if you qualify
We are facing a challenging and uncertain time.
If applying and maintaining an O1 visa status wasn't arduous and stressful enough, now we have to deal with this unforeseen situation.
IF YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS OF APPLYING OR RENEWING AN O1 VISA
If you are applying to the O1 while in the US and you are doing a change or extend of status, you should expect some delays. USCIS is not accepting premium processing for the next 60 days so please plan accordingly. Also, consider your traveling needs before submitting your application. If you apply from within the US, you will need to wait for the final decision in the US and will not be able to travel. Consider this before submitting your petition.
If you are applying to the O1 from abroad, you will face a different set of challenges. Some consulates have stopped issuing visas due to the temporal travel bans imposed by the US in certain countries and this ban might extend in time. Please consider this when applying and plan for longer delays when booking your visa interview at your designated consulate.
In both cases, also consider that if you hired an attorney for your application most law firms in the East and West Coast have limited access to their offices due to the lockdown so you should expect additional delays.
IF YOU ARE AN O1 VISA HOLDER
O1 visa holders are facing a bigger challenge. USCIS has still not notified if they will offer any relief measures for sponsors/petitioners and beneficiaries of employment-based visas, but there are certain things that you should be considering:
If your sponsor/petitioner was your employer and you are now unemployed, it means your visa is no longer valid and you have a period of 60 days to leave the country or submit another petition.
If your sponsor/petitioner is your agent and all your projects/events/productions got cancelled, you still can remain in the US and resume your itinerary activities and/or take additional projects when needed.
Please be advised that nonimmigrant visa holders (F1, F1/OPT, B1, B2, J1, H1B, O1, etc) are NOT eligible for public benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing, etc. Although, USCIS published in their last memorandum that nonimmigrant visa holders will not be affected by the Public Charge rule that became effective last February when seeking testing or necessary medical treatment because of Covid-19, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).
Be reminded that unemployment benefits and State-based essential health plans (such as NY State of Health Marketplace Essential plans) are not considered public benefits.
You might qualify for unemployment if you are on an O1 visa with a petitioner agent and were employed by a company and paid with a W-2 for a period of at least 12 months. Unfortunately, at this moment individuals working as independent contractors do not qualify for unemployment, but given the special circumstances, this might change in the following weeks.
This is a difficult moment but it will pass. Let’s stay connected and informed.
Please stay well and healthy, and share any concerns you have with us!