Tech layoffs set the clock for foreign workers.


Neha has been working at a startup in Seattle for seven months, when she finds out that her entire team is being laid off. She has lived and rooted in America for over a decade. She studied, bought a house and eventually started a family and gave birth to a son in her home country. She now has less than 60 days to find a new job or lose her US residency visa, and so does her husband.

Neha, whose separation agreement prevents her from speaking publicly about Neha, is one of hundreds of foreign workers who have lost their jobs on short-term H-1B work visas. Companies are laying off thousands of workers amid a crisis in the once-booming tech industry, with many employers citing factors such as the pandemic’s rapid expansion, rising interest rates and high inflation. In November alone, Doordash, Lyft, Meta, and Amazon laid off more than 20,000 workers. More than 150,000 tech workers will be laid off by 2022, according to the website Layoffs.fyi.

“It’s ridiculous that keeping my son in the country of his birth depends on my job,” says Neha, who has been applying for a green card for several years.

Read more: Big Tech is laying off tons of workers. That is also a bad sign for your company.

Tech companies rely heavily on foreign workers, mainly from India and China, to fill specialized roles in fields such as engineering, biotechnology and computer science, requiring work visas to hire. In the year By 2022, Amazon has approved more than 2,500 H-1B visas and Meta about 1,300 visas. An Amazon spokesperson told TIME that the company “has support channels and resources in place for any employees working on visas, and the removal of the role could be detrimental.”

These companies have not released numbers related to the number of layoffs of workers on H-1B visas, but Bloomberg reported that the latest deals on Meta and Twitter alone affected about 350 H-1B holders. Some companies have pledged to support workers affected by visas. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has offered “dedicated immigration specialists” to help employees with visas. A Meta spokesperson said the company has provided a packet of leaked information related to immigration and has provided a separate email address for personal support from the company’s team of people. Doordash has set March 2023 as the cut-off date for its furloughed foreign workers to give workers on work visas more time to find new jobs. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Informal networks have flourished to connect those who have been laid off with companies that are still hiring. The Go Zeno website, which aims to provide support in the immigration process, has created a database of individuals who are urgently looking for new jobs. Of the more than 200 people on the list, more than 90% are on H-1B visas.

Vidy Agrawal, who works on H-1B visas at software company Databricks, created a Google Form with her friend Shruti Anand to connect with hiring managers she saw posting H-1B visa holders on LinkedIn. The project started as a way to help 50 or so friends and colleagues, but its reach has grown as tech companies have made the biggest changes since the pandemic began. “It exploded,” says Agrawal. The list now has about 600 people on H-1B and F-1 visas — student visas issued to international students that allow them to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months — looking for new job opportunities before their visas expire. Although many companies are still hiring, there aren’t enough jobs to meet the demand she sees.

“We can connect a hundred hiring managers, but that’s not enough,” says Agrawal. “In terms of the macro environment and the holiday season, people are really struggling.”

“When we apply for an H-1B visa, we know the rules,” Agrawal says, adding that knowing these parameters won’t make the process of finding a new job — or leaving the country quickly — any easier. “What if you have kids in school? What if you’re sick and in therapy?” “There’s a lot going on in a person’s life, and it’s very spontaneous,” says Agrawal.

Expired visa system

Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a bipartisan immigration advocacy group founded by business and technology leaders, said the problems faced by people with suspended visas represent just one aspect of the issue. “Flaws are visible in these deep pressures, but this is really beneath the surface of a failed and broken system,” Schulte said.

Economists have criticized the H-1B visa program’s inefficient allocation process beyond the 60-day grace period, a system that has remained unchanged since it was created in 1990 to fill growing labor shortages.

“The last major update was in 1990.” “The world economy was very different,” says Schulte.

Over the years, demand for H-1B visas has begun to far exceed the annual peak, which is currently 85,000 in fiscal year 2023. Total capitalism has been expanding and expanding over the years. After a job offer is received, applicants are selected by random lottery. For the fiscal year 2023, 74% of visa applicants were rejected. As a result, companies offer offers to more candidates than they can hire.

“Companies cannot choose which of their employees won the lottery. Regardless of the odds of the tournament, they will finish.” Chad Sparber, professor of international economics at Colgate University. “Companies have to search for and offer three times as many jobs as they can actually hire. Those search costs are wasteful.”

Tech workers protested in the streets of San Jose, California over the weekend, after bipartisan legislation that proposed ending employment-based immigration visas for the country was previously considered by the Democratic leadership of the US House. It can be voted on. These changes would particularly benefit Indian and Chinese workers in the U.S. The EAGLE Act also proposes to regulate other H-1B processing.

The H-1B is intended to be a temporary visa, valid for three years with the option of renewal.

Read more: Beyond Silicon Valley, Big Tech is hurting its workers.

This reliance on the employer discourages employees from taking their talents elsewhere. “If an employer is sponsoring that person’s green card, they may not want to shake things up and look for a different job or move to another employer,” says Sparber. “It’s a recipe for exploitation.” The US limits the number of green cards issued per country. According to a 2020 congressional report, while most applicants expect to receive their green cards in less than a year, applications for Indian workers can take up to 195 years because the number of applicants exceeds the nation’s maximum.

Sparber said larger reforms, such as allocating visas based on how much a company is willing to pay, could increase efficiency in the hiring process, and raise concerns about visas being allocated to outsourcing firms that pay workers less.

“If you’re a mom-and-pop tech company and you need a very specific skill set, you can try to hire an H-1B worker directly, but there’s a low chance you’ll be allowed to hire them legally,” Sparber says. “Instead, if you go to one of these outsourcing companies, they’ll have permanent staff to meet your needs. They are like high tech heat agencies.

Although the H-1B visa is valid for 60 days after the individual’s employment is terminated, many workers find that they only have three to four weeks to get the paperwork done before their visa expires.

Read more: A Big Tech implosion could save the planet.

“A lot of companies don’t want to sponsor or transfer H-1B visas, so you’re going to be in the weeds right away in the hiring process,” says Neha.

Neha plans to look for a job while waiting for her green card application to be completed. She has Canadian residency through her husband, so while she can’t return to the US where she built a life, she doesn’t have to return to India after her visa expires — the only option for many H-1Bs. Visa holders. The current job market makes it difficult to stay optimistic, she says. “It’s almost impossible to get a job in 60 days in the current situation,” she says. “The world kind of ends.”

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Write Simone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com.



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