Last week it was Twitter, Lyft and Stripe. This week it’s Meta and Salesforce. Layoffs are hitting the tech industry hard. And some workers aren’t just losing their jobs — they could lose their right to stay in the U.S.
For decades, the tech industry has relied heavily on H-1B visas, a visa for guest workers with specialized skills that’s usually good for three years.
But when H-1B holders are laid off, they have 60 days to basically find a new job … or leave the country.
“I mean, what does it do to a person, can you imagine,” said Ajay Manchanda. He’s now a permanent resident, but was laid off three times while on an H-1B after attending school here and then working for almost a decade.
“You spend 10 years building a life. And now you have 60 days to sell your house, to sell your car … to get your kids out of school, and leave the country,” he said.
Manchanda was lucky. He was able to find a new employer to sponsor his visa each time he was laid off. But if someone can’t do that, their options are limited, said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration attorney in Silicon Valley.
“It is really scary,” she said. “People are freaking out.”
She said some immigrants could get permanent residency. But per-country caps and a huge backlog of applications mean green cards are especially difficult to obtain for Indian immigrants, who make up about three quarters of H-1B holders.
Some companies offer to help laid-off workers apply for other visas, said attorney Matthew Dunn, who represents employers of foreign workers.
“They do look to find any strategy that would work for them,” said Dunn. “Can they switch to a visitor status? Could they go on their spouse’s dependent status?”
But it’s the uncertainty of situations like this that could make the U.S. less attractive to immigrant workers, said Gaurav Khanna, an economist at UC San Diego.
“What it’s doing is essentially directing this kind of global talent to other countries,” Khanna said.
Countries like Canada, which Khanna said has made its immigration policy friendlier to foreign tech workers.
Clarification (Nov. 10, 2022): This story has been modified to clarify that the H-1B visa is considered a nonimmigrant visa category under U.S. law.
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