Daily Management Review

Due To Layoffs In The Technology Industry, Visa Holders Are Scrambling For Work In Order To Avoid Deportation


Due To Layoffs In The Technology Industry, Visa Holders Are Scrambling For Work In Order To Avoid Deportation
After years of seemingly limitless growth, the US technology industry has reached a plateau. Companies are attempting to conserve cash, which is resulting in thousands of job cuts per month, with a spike in layoffs in November.
While the loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the recent wave of layoffs is having an outsized impact on skilled workers who are living in the United States on temporary visas and are at risk of being sent home if they can't find a new job quickly.
Tech firms are among the employers with the most H-1B visa approvals, which are granted to people in specialty occupations that frequently require a college degree and additional training. For years, Silicon Valley has relied on government-issued temporary visas to hire thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotech, and computer science. That is one of the main reasons why tech companies have been vocal in their support of immigrants' rights.
Workers on temporary visas frequently have 60 to 90 days to find a new job or face deportation.
“It’s this amazing talent pool that the U.S. is fortunate to attract, and they’re always living on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration lawyer based in Mountain View, California, who specializes in securing visas for tech workers. “Many of them up are up against this 60-day grace period deadline. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the U.S. So it’s a stressful time for everybody.”
The already dire situation deteriorated in November, when Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Lyft, Salesforce, HP, and DoorDash announced significant workforce reductions. According to data compiled by the website Layoffs.fyi, over 50,000 tech workers were laid off in November.
According to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job, Amazon gave laid-off employees 60 days to look for a new job within the company before offering them severance.
According to a National Foundation for American Policy review of US immigration data, Amazon had the most approved petitions for H-1B visas in fiscal 2021, with 6,182. Google, IBM, and Microsoft ranked near the top of the list as well.
The former AWS employee has been in the country on student and work visas for two years. He claimed he was laid off unexpectedly in early November, just months after joining the company as an engineer. Despite Amazon telling him he had 60 days to find another job within the company, the person said his manager advised him to apply for jobs elsewhere due to the company's hiring freeze. Amazon announced in November that it would pause hiring for its corporate workforce.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment further than what CEO Andy Jassy said last month, when he told those affected by the layoffs that the company would assist them in finding new jobs.
Companies typically do not specify what percentage of those laid off are on visas. A LinkedIn search for "layoffs H1B" yields a stream of posts from workers who have recently lost their jobs and are concerned about the 60-day unemployment window. According to the former AWS employee, visa holders have been sharing resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind, and WhatsApp groups.
It had already been a hectic few years for foreign workers in the United States before rising inflation and fears of a recession prompted the latest round of layoffs.
The Trump administration's hostile stance toward immigration has jeopardized the H-1B program. As president in 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending work visas, including those with H-1B status, claiming they harm American job prospects. The move drew harsh criticism from tech executives, who claimed that the program serves as a pipeline for talented individuals and strengthens American businesses. Last year, President Joe Biden allowed the Trump-era ban to expire.
Whatever relief the Biden presidency provided is of little value to those who are currently unemployed. An engineer who was recently laid off by Illumina, a gene-sequencing technology company, expressed hope that his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He's in the country on a different visa, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows STEM graduates to work in the United States for up to three years after graduation.
The former Illumina employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, not only has 90 days from the date of layoff to find a new job, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any employer who hires him must agree to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the associated fees. He is considering returning to school in order to extend his stay in the United States, but he is concerned about taking out student loans.
Illumina announced in November that it would be laying off about 5% of its global workforce. According to a company spokesperson, less than 10% of the impacted employees were here on H-1B or related visas.
“We are engaging with each employee individually so that they understand the impact to their employment eligibility and options to remain in the U.S.,” the spokesperson said by email. “We are working to review each and every situation to ensure great care for those impacted, and to ensure compliance with immigration law.”
The ex-employee stated that he hoped to work for Illumina, establish roots in the United States, and purchase a home. Now, he says, he's just trying to stay in the country without going into debt. It's "like a night and day difference" in just a few months, he says.