What Happens to the H-1B Visa Workers Downsized in the Tech Layoffs?

For some, the Christmas season is one of the loveliest times of the year. Unfortunately, this is the worst time for H-1B visa holders working in the technology sector.

Silicon Valley technology companies typically rely heavily on workers from India, China and other countries who have specific advanced skills in computer science, programming, science and engineering. These people come to the United States through the H-1B program and are in high demand as it is extremely difficult for companies to attract, recruit and retain top tech talent. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Companies benefit from a larger talent pool to hire from, and workers have the opportunity to find employment with reputable companies, earn a good living, and have the opportunity to grow their careers and wealth.

The current job market is inhospitable to H-1B visa holders

This year was disastrous for many white-collar workers as nearly 150,000 workers lost their jobs. In addition, hiring freezes were announced and job offers withdrawn. The layoffs highlighted the precarious status of H-1B workers.

In a slowing economy, jobs are no longer secure. For H1-B cardholders, they are at great risk. If they lose their employment status, they have a narrow window — just 60 days to find new companies to fund their visas — to secure another job or otherwise be forced to leave the country. Under threat of having to leave, these workers may be forced to take a job that pays far less than they previously earned.

H-1B holders are in a really difficult position right now. There is a glut of tech workers in the market and many hiring freezes. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the holiday season is one of the slowest times of the year for hiring. Many companies hire a US citizen instead of an H-1B employee because it is cheaper and requires less paperwork.

People who have lived and worked in the US may have to leave

Companies including Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Salesforce, Stripe and Lyft have hired at least 45,000 employees on H-1B visas over the past three years, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Congress mandates that the US Department of Homeland Security can only issue 65,000 H-1B visas annually. Another 20,000 visas will be awarded to holders of a master’s or doctorate degree from a US university. Visas are issued for up to six years. While the US has about half a million H-1B visa holders, a large concentration of holders work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The US places a cap on the number of people coming to America from each country who are eligible to receive green cards. For those who are from India or China and have lived in America for a few years, they may not be able to stay due to the limited lottery spots that are awarded. Although the two countries hold the lion’s share of tech visas, the allocation is the same as in smaller countries. It is believed that around 10% to 30% of the employees affected by the downsizing are visa holders.

How companies can help

Rather than “officially” firing visa holders, companies could offer the option of extending employment in lieu of severance pay. They could provide adversely affected workers with access to immigration attorneys, question-and-answer seminars, resources and advice on finding a new job.

According to BuzzFeed News, H-1B employees whom Meta fired in November sent an email to the company’s human resources department asking to stay on the payroll longer. Since Meta wanted to pay four months’ severance pay, the workers asked to remain on the payroll for that time to give them more time to find new employment.

It is not known if Meta has granted the request.

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