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NEW DELHI : The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has allowed those whose visas would expire shortly to seek an extension in what would be a relief to thousands of Indians including H-1B visa holders stranded in the US due to the covid-19 pandemic.

“The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic," said a new notification on the DHS website issued on Monday. “We continue to carefully analyse these issues and to leverage our resources to effectively address these challenges within our existing authorities. DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of US workers during this pandemic," it said.

There were 202,013 Indian students in the US last year, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. There are also an estimated 65,000-70,000 H-1B visa holders.

“Generally, non-immigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires. However, we recognize that non-immigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay due to covid-19," the notification said adding people could apply for a visa extension.

India had in recent conversations with the US taken up the issue of extending the validity of H-1B visas of Indian nationals stranded in the US. New Delhi had also requested for an extension in visa validity for those holding other categories of visas.

Two people familiar with the developments said foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla raised the matter last week with deputy secretary of state Stephen E. Biegun. India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar had previously discussed the issue with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Since the outbreak of covid-19, millions of people in the US have filed for unemployment claims, triggering a fear of layoffs among Indian professionals working in the country.

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