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New Hampshire's Seasonal J-1 Visa Workers In Limbo Because Of Coronavirus

Many businesses in New Hampshire’s seasonal tourism industry fill job openings with international workers on a J-1 visa, also known as a work and travel visa.

But, as the ski season winds down, many of those international workers find themselves in a kind of limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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This includes 24-year-old Mayte Cuadrado, who’s spent the last few months as a line cook at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods.

She's from Peru, and here on a J-1 visa, which meant after a couple months of work, she would have a month to travel. She had plans of visiting Disney World and New York City.  

But those plans have been nixed.

“Nos preocupa que la visa se nos termine,” she said.

Cuadrado says she’s worried about still being in the United States after her visa expires on April 15. But getting back to Peru is complicated now: the country has closed its borders and stopped international flights because of the pandemic.

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She says she's been trying to get ahold of someone at the Peruvian consulate in Boston but hasn't been able to talk with anyone yet. She says she and other foreign workers at the Omni are trying to stay calm.

Ron Abramson is an immigration attorney based in Manchester. He says he’s been advising people like Cuadrado to apply to change their status to a B-2 visitor visa, which offers more flexibility in letting people stay in the United States longer. 

“That will ensure, as long as they file it in time, that they don’t accrue what is called unlawful presence if and when they want to come back in the future,” he said.

While that application is pending, applicants are presumed to be in the country lawfully. 

Another option, Abramson says, is to seek to extend their visa based on humanitarian criteria laid out by the federal government. 

But he says it’s essential to be proactive, and not trust that there will be new federal policies that would alleviate the situation.

It's hard to know exactly how many people are in Cuadrado's situation right now. Data from 2016 showed that there were about 4,000 J-1 visa workers placed in New Hampshire. 

Daniela is an editor in NHPR's newsroom. She leads NHPR's Spanish language news initiative, ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? and the station's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. You can email her at dallee@nhpr.org.
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