Tech layoffs create uncertainty for workers on H-1B visas


Finding a new employer to sponsor a visa could be a challenge for workers recently laid off from tech companies.

SEATTLE — For foreign workers impacted by the tech layoffs, time is of the essence. Workers on a H-1B visa have 60 days to find another job or leave the country.

“Nobody is getting a new job in 60 days,”  said Graham & Walker Managing Director Leslie Feinzaig. “That is by far the most vulnerable population in this entire equation.”

Thousands of layoffs have happened across the tech industry in recent months. However, the past few weeks have seen mass layoffs at some of the biggest names in tech. 

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, let go of 11,000 workers last week. Twitter let go of roughly half its team, which included 208 workers in the Seattle area. Seattle-based Redfin sent out a memo last week that it intends to lay off 862 employees.

“It’s terrifying and it is happening a lot across the industry right now,” Feinzaig said.

The New York Times reported Monday Amazon plans to lay off 10,000 employees. Amazon has not confirmed the claim.

The Washington Employment Security Department released new numbers about lay offs at Meta. The department said 307 Meta employees were let go in Bellevue and 419 Seattle workers.

“If you are affected by layoffs, I think the first thing to note is that it is not a mar on your resume,” said Feinzaig, “This is a great time to try the different ideas that you have been thinking about. If nothing comes from them, you will have at least learned about the process of entrepreneurship.”

The Employment Security Department expects a short term uptic in unemployment.

“We are going to watching layoffs. We’ll be watching unemployment insurance claims. Unemployment insurance claims are at the lowest we’ve seen in years,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department.

Currently, Washington unemployment sits at 3.7%.

It’s too early to know how many of those let go are foreign workers. Immigration attorney Tahmina Watson wouldn’t be surprised if the number is more than 10%.

Finding a new employer to sponsor a visa could be a challenge. Large tech companies have cut back on hiring, and in some cases have issued additional layoffs and hiring freezes.

“The 60-day clock is a very strict one,” Watson said. “It is from the day you are laid off and days go by very quickly.”

She said workers would need to get creative and work fast.

“The simple solution is to figure out how to retain the talent that this country actually needs while the economy is suffering,” Watson said. 

Feinzaig, who came to the United States as an immigrant in the early 2000s, can relate to what’s happening. In 2008, while working on an H-1B visa, she was laid off.

“I don’t think there’s any immigrant that comes to America and gets a highly competitive job expecting to be let go from it and have to leave the county, their apartment, their lives, their girlfriends and boyfriends and friends and kids and all of the things, at the flip of a switch,” Feinzaig said.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, an H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant classification for people who wish to work in the country on a temporary basis. 

Watson recommends H-1B workers look into other visa opportunities, including a TN NAFTA permit or an E-2 classification if they qualify. She also said workers might choose to start a company and employ themselves.

“In every adversity there is opportunity,” Watson said. 

Watson recommended foreign workers who are considering starting a company consult an attorney.

Feinzaig also sees opportunity. She expects to see new start-ups and feels many could become thriving healthy businesses. In fact, it’s something she’s excited about as an investor.

“I think, the next 12 months, we’re going to see the best companies in a generation come out of these hard times,” Fienzaig said.


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