H-1B visa holders can now use S.F. startup’s AI-powered bot to switch jobs, escape ‘indentured servitude’

One of the many, many criticisms levied against the controversial H-1B visa for skilled foreign workers is that the program makes indentured servants out of them.

That’s because the visas are issued to the employer rather than the employee, and the company holds the worker’s fate in its hands.

“My visa is locked down to my employer and I cannot ask for a raise or get promoted,” a person identifying as a citizen of India and “indentured servant” posted on Y Combinator’s Hacker News forum. “By all means please do not come to US with H1B. The U.S. has broken immigration system.”

But now a San Francisco startup that late last year launched a bot to help handle certain visa processes has added an H-1B service. Visabot this week expanded its capabilities to include a process for changing jobs that the company calls “H-1B transfer.”

As the company explains deeper into its website, there’s no actual visa transfer — but the process takes the applicant outside the lottery-based system that’s capped at 85,000 visas, far fewer than the usual number of applicants.

“It is not a real ‘transfer’ but a new H-1B petition, all over again, without the restriction of the H-1B cap,” according to Visabot. “The new employer has to file a new H-1B petition for the employee. The previous employer does not need to permit the ‘transfer.’

“In fact, he does not even need to know about the new employer and government agencies do not release information about new H-1B petitions.”

To help put together the new application, the bot uses artificial intelligence to pull relevant public documents, assist with forms and draft text.

Since launching, Visabot has facilitated more than 50,000 applications for other types of visas, the company said in a press release.

But the new service doesn’t address the main obstacle to foreign H-1B workers wishing to change employers, said immigration lawyer Sam Adair of the Graham Adair law firm, based in San Jose and Austin, Texas.

“This service doesn’t really offer anything new to H-1B visa holders,” Adair said. “The option of transferring an H-1B is available to H-1B visa holders as long as they have an employer willing to sponsor their transfer.

“I don’t think that the struggle that H-1B visa holders face is in filing their transfer application — the struggle and restrictions they feel come from finding an employer willing to sponsor the transfer of the H-1B.”


Photo: A Pakistani man on an H-1B visa goes through documents (Meri Simon/Bay Area News Group/file)


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  • StopTheLies

    CEOs and outsourcers alike would do well to remember both bribery and immigration fraud are federal crimes. And typically punctuated by heavy personal fines and several years in a federal penitentiary

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    Donald Trump is forcing companies to actually do some work by hiring home grown employees which they’ll need to invest some time and money to train instead of cherry picking the best from around the world.

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