The H1B visa is a nonimmigrant classification that applies to people who come to the United States from another country to perform professional services in a specialty occupation. To qualify for this visa, a U.S. employer must sponsor that foreign employee.
This type of visa is also provided to those who can offer services of exceptional merit and ability relating to a Department of Defense (DOD) cooperative research and development project. Those who are in the U.S. on an H1B visa may be admitted for a period of up to three years. Generally, though, these workers cannot stay in the country beyond a total of six years.
If you become injured on the job with an H1B visa, you may wonder what benefits or compensation is available to you under current law.
A reader of ours recently wrote in with this question:
Question: If I’m here on a H1B visa, can I get workers’ comp?
Answer: Yes. Depending on your state’s laws, H1B workers must get the same benefits as US-based workers according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
What the Law Says About Workplace Benefits for H1B Visa Employees
Your employer must offer the same benefits to you as an H1B worker that similarly employed U.S. workers get. These include the opportunity to participate in all of the following:
- Health, life, disability, and other insurance plans
- Retirement and savings plans
- Cash bonuses
- Non-cash compensation such as stock options
Since U.S. workers are eligible for workers’ compensation payments for on-the-job injuries, an H1B visa employee may also qualify. It’s important to note that individual states administer workers’ comp benefit programs, not the federal government.
Related: If I’m an H1B Worker, Can I Get Social Security Disability?
H1B Visa Employees Have the Right to a Safe Workplace
Just like any other worker in the United States of any immigration or visa status, an H1B visa worker enjoys specific rights. One of these is the right to a safe and healthy working environment. This includes the following:
- Medical treatment: Workers have the right to report work-related injuries and illnesses to their employer. If an H1B worker is injured or gets sick at work, they should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. That worker’s employer may pay for any medical expenses incurred at that time.
- IMPORTANT: When you are at the doctor, clinic, or hospital, ask for copies of your medical paperwork.
- In most cases, for work related injuries or illnesses, the employer should provide free medical treatment and part of the wages lost while injured. To recover partial lost wages, an H1B employee likely must file for workers’ compensation in the state where they work.
- Protective equipment: If an employee works with or around pesticides or dangerous chemicals, the employer must pay for and provide protective equipment required for the job (such as a respirator or gloves).
- Training: Workers of any visa status have the right to receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the safety and health standards that apply to a specific workplace. Further, the training must be in a language and vocabulary the worker can understand.
Concerned about unsafe working conditions or other rights violations while working for a U.S. employer? Report the situation to a government agency, union, non-governmental organization, or other organization that can assist you. You can call the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) toll-free to report workplace safety violations: 1-800-321-6742.
If you do not speak English, ask for an interpreter.
What Happens if an H1B Employee Quits or Gets Fired?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the employer is liable for the reasonable costs of an H1B employee’s transportation home if the employer terminates the employment before the end of the employee’s period of authorized stay. However, the employer is not responsible for the costs of return transportation if the employee voluntarily resigns.
If an H1B via holder is laid off, fired, quit, or otherwise ceases employment with their previous employer, they may have up to 60 consecutive days or until the end of their authorized validity period, whichever is shorter, to find new employment, change status, or depart the country. This change is the result of a newer law passed in 2017.
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Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.