Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic job search to avoid deportation

Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic job search to avoid deportation

After years of seemingly limitless expansion, America’s tech industry has hit a wall. Companies are in cash-preservation mode, resulting in thousands of job cuts per month and a wave of layoffs in November.

While the sudden loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the recent wave of cuts is having an outsized impact on skilled workers living in the United States on visas. temporary and risk being sent home if they cannot get a new job in the short term.

Tech companies are among the employers with the most approvals for H-1B visas, which are granted to people in specialized occupations that often require a college degree and additional training. Silicon Valley has relied for years on temporary government-issued visas to employ thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotechnology and IT. This is one of the main reasons tech companies have been outspoken in their defense of immigrant rights.

Workers on temporary visas often have 60 to 90 days to find new work to avoid deportation.

“It’s this incredible pool of talent that the United States is blessed with, and it’s always living on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration attorney based in Mountain View, Calif., specializing in obtaining visas for technology workers. “A lot of them are facing this 60-day grace period. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the United States. So it’s a stressful time for everyone.”

The already grim situation worsened in November, when Meta, AmazonTwitter, Lyft, Selling power, HP and DoorDash have announced significant reductions in their workforce. More than 50,000 tech workers were laid off in November, according to data collected by the website.

Amazon gave laid-off employees 60 days to seek a new position with the company, after which they would be offered severance pay, according to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job. The person spoke to CNBC on condition of anonymity.

In fiscal year 2021, Amazon had the most approved H-1B visa applications, with 6,182, according to a review of U.S. immigration data by the National Foundation for American Policy. Google, IBM and Microsoft also ranked near the top of the list.

The former AWS employee has been in the country for two years on student and work visas. He said he was unexpectedly fired in early November, just months after joining the company as an engineer. Although Amazon informed him that he had 60 days to find another position internally, the person said his manager advised him to apply elsewhere because of the company’s setback in hiring. Amazon announced in November that it was suspending hiring of its corporate staff.

An Amazon spokesperson did not provide comment beyond what CEO Andy Jassy said last month when he told those affected by the layoffs that the company would help them find work. new roles.

Companies generally do not specify the percentage of dismissed persons who have a visa. A search for “H1B layoffs” on LinkedIn brings up a stream of messages from workers who recently lost their jobs expressing concern about the 60-day unemployment window. Visa holders shared resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind and in WhatsApp groups, the former AWS employee said.

It had already been a frenzied few years for foreign workers in the United States long before soaring inflation and fears of a recession triggered the latest round of job cuts.

The Trump administration’s hostile stance on immigration has endangered the H-1B program. As president in 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending work visas, including those with H-1B status, saying they hurt Americans’ job prospects. The move drew a strong rebuke from tech executives, who said the program serves as a pipeline for talented people and strengthens American businesses. President Joe Biden allowed the Trump-era ban to expire last year.

Whatever relief the Biden presidency provides has limited value for those who are now out of work. An engineer recently fired by a genetic sequencing technology company Illuminated said he hoped his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He’s here on a different visa, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to work in the United States for up to three years after graduation. of their degree.

The former Illumina employee, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, not only must find a new job within 90 days of the layoff date, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any company that hires him must be willing to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the associated fees. He plans to return to school to extend his stay in the United States, but he is anxious about taking out student loans.

Illumina said in November it was cutting about 5% of its global workforce. A company spokesperson told CNBC that less than 10% of affected employees were here on H-1B or related visas.

“We are engaging with each employee individually so they understand the impact on their employment eligibility and their options for remaining in the United States,” the spokesperson said via email. “We strive to review each situation to ensure that everyone involved is given great consideration and to ensure compliance with immigration law.”

The ex-employee said he had dreams of working for Illumina, moving to the United States and buying a house. Now, he says, he’s just trying to find a way to stay in the country without getting into deep debt. In just a few months, it’s “like a difference between day and night,” he said.

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